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ECTs vision on sustainable

and reliable European transport

The future of
freight transport
De toekomst van
het goederenvervoer
De visie van ECT op duurzaam
en betrouwbaar Europees transport

The future of
freight transport
ECTs vision on sustainable
and reliable European transport

Unimpeded and optimal

transport across Europe
requires a vision

The Netherlands in general and Rotterdam in particular are perfectly positioned for the handling of large
volumes of cargo. On the sea side, the ports strategic location in North-west Europe, its unrivalled depth
and the large-scale container handling facilities definitely give Rotterdam an edge over the competition.
Decisive, innovative companies have already been optimally utilising these advantages for decades. For
the hinterland transport of deep-sea cargo throughout Europe, the comprehensive networks of rivers and
railway lines constitute major trump cards as well, with a huge capacity for sustainable transport. The Rhine
river and the Betuweroute dedicated freight railway line are the most prominent examples in this respect.
More however is needed to guarantee unimpeded and optimal transport across Europe. Practice has
proven that if we continue to organise transport in the current manner, Europe will inevitably grind to a
halt at some point. The European transport system simply cannot cope. In this document, ECT therefore
offers its vision on a successful future of freight transport in Europe in general and that of its customers
in particular. Key words in this respect are the development of synchromodality, the realisation of push
systems and a shift towards thinking in terms of flows.

Better use needs to be

made of the infrastructure

The challenges facing European logistics

The current European transport system
The continuous growth in global trade, Chinas ongoing expansion and (despite various economic
and political difficulties) a structural increase in purchasing power within the European Union justify
the expectation that transport will continue to grow in the future. It is up to Europe to adequately
accommodate this transport. A major challenge; the European transport system is currently under a great
deal of pressure. Of the four modes of transport - road, rail, inland shipping and feeder - only the first
two are actually available in many cases. Large parts of Europe lack (sufficiently navigable) rivers and
feeder transport is only an option for the coastal regions.
It is partially for this reason that the European transport chains often lack sufficient capacity.
The volumes simply fail to flow through the pipeline; the infrastructure has reached its maximum.
Congestion is constantly looming. An example of the potential impact this may have occurred in
early 2006, when a winter storm disrupted Germanys rail system for a week. It next took three
months for cargo transport to return back to normal. Obviously, the limits in terms of capacity had
clearly been reached. The blockade of the Rhine river in February 2011 due to a capsized vessel near the
Lorelei in Germany resulted in major logistical problems which lasted several weeks as well. As it turned
out, other modes of transport were only partially capable of compensating for the unavailability of
inland shipping on this route.

Sustainability encompasses
more than being stuck in
clean traffic jams

Sustainability as a driver
What positively and undeniably affects current and especially also future logistics is
the constantly increasing focus on sustainability. Major shippers are taking the lead in
this respect. More and more, sustainable transport is a hot topic in their boardrooms.
Companies explicitly indicate that they want to start transporting in a different manner
and want to shift their cargo from road to rail, inland shipping and feeder, not in the
last place for reasons of improved efficiency and cost reduction as well.
In actual practice, things are not quite that straightforward though. In the hinterland
transport from the Rotterdam port, road transport currently still has a market share of
approximately 50 percent; a market share which is even higher for continental transport.
Within this context, the car industry is devoted to becoming increasingly cleaner and
therefore greener (euro 6, gigaliners, green cars etc) in order to remain an attractive
mode of transport. This definitely helps. Sustainability however goes way beyond all of
us being stuck in clean traffic jams. Reliability, accessibility and social responsibility are
just as important.

From A to B by inland
shipping or rail and
from B to C - the last
mile - by truck.

In A, the shipper has the
choice between inland
shipping, rail, feeder
and road.

Optimally flexible and
sustainable system:
a choice of different
modes of transport in A,
but also in B and, in the
case of return cargo,
in C.

From intermodal via co-modal to synchromodal

The familiar alternative to trucking is intermodal transport. From A to B, cargo is moved by inland shipping
or rail and from B to C - the last mile - by truck. The next step is co-modal transport, in which the shipper
can choose from different modes of transport (barge, rail, feeder and road) in A.
Synchromodality takes things even further. It offers companies the ability to time and again select the most
appropriate mode of transport for that particular moment and circumstances with the customers wishes as
a starting point. This requires a choice from various modes of transport in A, but if possible also in B. Thus,
an optimally flexible and sustainable transport system is created in which companies are always assured
of optimum transport combinations depending on the circumstances - product, required speed, physical
conditions etc - and can easily switch between modes of transport if necessary.
For all parties involved, synchromodality means a greater degree of cost efficiency, more sustainable
operations and an optimum use of resources and infrastructure. An important distinction of synchromodal
transport in comparison to intermodal and co-modal transport is also that the customer is not forced to
use rail, barge or feeder transport. The offered product is so attractive that the customer will automatically
select this. Road transport is a fully fledged option in this concept as well, for example when specific
destinations are involved or when time is of the essence.


Optimally and sustainably

organising transport

Synchromodality is an essential pre-condition for optimally and sustainably organising transport in the future.
By shifting from a terminal operator to a terminal operator plus, ECT can play an important role in this.
The deep-sea terminal after all is but one single link in often highly complex logistics chains. The primary
concern of the customer is that his cargo is always at its destination at the agreed-upon time. The customer
does not select a port, but a complete solution in which all the links in the chain play their roles. Important
customer criteria in that respect are (in varying orders) reliability, efficiency, price, speed and, increasingly,
sustainability. The selection of a port is consequently determined by many more factors than just the presence
of quays and cranes. Much more important is that the terminal forms an integral part of a comprehensive
transport network, is willing to think along with the customer and is also able to optimally organise the
hinterland transport. Without there being forced choices and with a maximum degree of flexibility as
regards modes of transport, price, speed, etc.
For example, take a logistics service provider who has agreed with his customer to always deliver containers
in Belgium no later than three days after the expected time of arrival (ETA) of a sea-going vessel in Rotterdam.
Mind you, the agreement between the customer and the service provider is based on the expected time of
arrival of the sea-going vessel, not on the actual arrival time. What needs to be taken into consideration in
this respect is that despite so-called slow steaming (which increases reliability), ships regularly arrive
behind schedule. After all, ships may encounter all sorts of delays such as storms, typhoons, delays in ports,
etc during their 60-70-day roundtrips. As a result, ECT is pre-eminently in a position to help both parties to
meet the agreements made. The terminal knows the actual time of arrival (ATA) and can (co)determine the
time of discharge of specific containers. Next, it can ensure that these containers are moved to Belgium
within the timeframe agreed upon by the customer and the service provider, in this case by inland shipping.
Or, if this is a better option due to time constraints: by truck.

Straight into Europe


Carrier haulage and merchant haulage, but also terminal haulage

In addition to carrier haulage (in which the shipping line organises the European transport) and merchant
haulage (in which the shipper or forwarder bears the responsibility), a third form of organising transport
is in fact created: terminal haulage (in which the terminal co-determines the transport to and from the
hinterland). The contents of the container and the agreements to this extent are then determining as
regards the speed of the transport. This will not work without synchromodality. ECT facilitates this through
European Gateway Services: a European network of inland terminals which function as extended gates
of the deep-sea terminals in Rotterdam and which are highly frequently connected with the seaport by
rail, barge and road transport. Supplementary (customs) services furthermore allow for document-free
transport under the responsibility of ECT, in which the progress of the cargo can be monitored in real
time (cargo tracking and tracing). It is not until the inland terminals that companies need to spring into
action to deal with their customs formalities. The onward distribution of their cargo can also be organised
far more efficiently from here. It goes without saying that a similar efficiency improvement can also be
achieved the other way around, from the inland terminals to the deep-sea terminals in Rotterdam.
European Gateway Services however offers even more. The inland terminals which function as extended
gates also maintain connections with other inland terminals and deep-sea terminals, both in Rotterdam
and beyond. This creates a constantly larger and further expanding open network of efficient, reliable and
sustainable connections.

European Gateway Services forms

the basis for a constantly larger and
expanding open network.


Lbeck (Germany)


Dortmund (Germany)


Leipzig (Germany)



Munich (Germany)

United Kingdom

Basel (Switzerland)






Vienna (Austria)


Wels (Austria)
Graz (Austria)
Gallarate (Italy)

Milano (Italy)


Piacenza (Italy)

European Gateway Services


A good example of the knock-on effect of European Gateway Services as a synchromodal network is
the role which the sister terminals of ECT within Hutchison Port Holdings can fulfil as extended gates
for feeder traffic. The Gdynia Container Terminal in Poland and the Container Terminal Frihamnen in
Stockholm, Sweden, for example, can thus manifest themselves as efficient stepping stones to Scandinavia
and the Baltic region. Other ports and terminals can also be part of the network. On the landside, the
through connections which rail operator Kombiverkehr currently already offers from Duisburg to more
than 70 European destinations are a good example of how European Gateway Services functions as a
flywheel for organising transport differently.

18.000 TEU plus

There is another important reason why European transport needs to be organised differently. A significant
increase in scale is occurring in deep-sea shipping. The number of vessels with a capacity of 12,500 TEU
(Twenty feet Equivalent Units) and beyond is increasing rapidly; ships of 18,000 TEU are already on the
horizon. Trends and expectations indicate that the larger these giants become, the fewer ports they will call
at during their trips. As a result, terminals will see themselves confronted with great peak loads. In the near
future, unloading 6000 containers and loading 6000 new ones as quickly as possible will become increasingly
more common, especially in Rotterdam. This requires adequate facilities on the sea side (depth, quays, cranes),
but also on the landside. Without a substantial open network such as that of European Gateway Services,
it is impossible to efficiently, reliably and sustainably handle all these containers. The more the process of
scaling up continues in the deep-sea shipping sector, the more important the services on the landside which
are offered as part of European Gateway Services consequently become.



Making optimum use

of modes of transport
and time

From push to pull

Synchromodal transport means making optimum use of the different modes of transport. In addition,
it means making optimum use of time: push instead of pull. Unlike the example mentioned earlier of the
agreement between the customer and the logistics service provider about a three-day lead time between
the port and the hinterland, the average dwell time of containers at deep-sea terminals can currently
amount to as much as six days. At the inland terminal in the hinterland, up to twelve days can sometimes
be added before the recipient calls the container to his warehouse or production location. It means that in
the current logistics system, it can take eighteen days to get a container from Rotterdam to, for example,
a factory in Frankfurt. This is almost the time it takes for the container vessel to sail from Hong Kong to
the Netherlands.
An important reason for the long lead times in Europe can be traced back to the recent past, to the years
before the economic crisis of 2008. By then, the limits of the transport capacity had been reached and the
ensuing logistical stagnations meant companies explicitly ran into difficulties with supplying their factories
and distributing their production. In response to this, these companies introduced even more containers
into the logistics chain, culminating in a self-perpetuating negative impact. Just-in-time escalated into
just-too-late and just-too-much.



Containers remain at the deep-sea terminal in

anticipation of action on the part of the recipient.

Deep-sea terminal


Deep-sea terminal

Final destination

Containers are directly moved to inland terminals in the

hinterland by barge or train in a pro-active flow.

Inland terminal

Final destination

Thinking in terms of flows from pull to push prevents that containers unnecessarily remain at the terminal and need to be moved by truck.


Thinking in flows
To reverse this trend and create a reliable just-in-time transport system, another way of organising is
necessary in which synchromodality and thinking in terms of flows have to play an important role. A switch
is needed from the pull system of containers which is controlled by the recipient to push systems. In that,
containers no longer remain at the deep-sea terminals in anticipation of action on the part of the recipient
(pull), but are directly moved by barge or train to the inland terminals in the hinterland in a pro-active
fashion (push). The other way around, the timely supply of export cargo at the inland terminals enables
the deep-sea terminal to also call in containers by barge or train at the most appropriate moment for the
logistics system.
Both flows prevent the logistics system from becoming more vulnerable as a result of transport always
and only being carried out by truck - too late - during peak times, allow for the optimum deployment
of sustainable transport by rail and inland shipping and lead to a better organisation of logistics chains
with reliable (just-in-time) delivery from the inland terminals. ECTs European Gateway Services is fully
geared to this.


Single window - information must come

together properly and always be available
to stakeholders.


Properly organising data exchange

A crucial precondition for being able to organise container logistics in pro-active flows in a synchromodal
manner is timely knowledge about the contents and destination of the containers. Information should come
together properly and be available to stakeholders at all times. In today's logistics chains that required
information is often available, but due to the linear exchange that takes place it is not always accessible
for the right parties. In the future, information flows must therefore be organised as a logistics circle, for
example by means of a single window. All parties involved, both companies and government bodies, will
then always have direct access to the data which are relevant to them and can benefit from this when
organising their logistics processes. Companies must however be able to retain control over their own
information flows and, if desired, distinguish themselves by means of their own information exchange.
An optimal organisation of information exchange in the logistics chain needs to be further worked out in
a proper manner. Knowledge centres (such as Dinalog) can play an important role in this.


Opportunities for the Netherlands

Synchromodality is only possible with high volumes and highly frequent hinterland connections.
Like no other, the Netherlands therefore has the potential to profile itself in this respect in Europe.
The country has the logistics scale sizes, the volumes, the network, the connections via all modes of
transport, the knowledge and the organisational skills. The Netherlands is truly a logistics top location
which encompasses more than just Rotterdam. It is up to companies to ensure that customers optimally
reap the benefits from this. ECT among other things does this through its performance at the deep-sea
terminal, its hub function for all transport modalities and through the implementation of European
Gateway Services in conjunction with partners.
Furthermore, the Netherlands has the opportunity to explicitly position itself as a combined seaport/airport,
which is unique as well. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and the seaport of Rotterdam are less than 100 kilometres
apart. That is quite a difference compared to, for example, the distance between the seaport of Hamburg
and Frankfurt airport in Germany or the seaport of Le Havre and Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. For
companies, this proximity between airport and seaport allows for the creation of a univocal logistics chain.
In this respect, the Netherlands can also boast a fantastic top position. Companies can for example import
complete machines via Rotterdam and have parts fly in via Amsterdam Schiphol. Or, in the case of a new
grape harvest, use the plane to quickly supply wine tastings while the regular stock is moved by ship. With
the combination seaport/airport, the Netherlands Ltd distinguishes itself for shippers and recipients. It must
want to promote this as such to the world as opposed to profiling the port of Rotterdam and Amsterdam
Schiphol as two separate entities.


It is up to new institutions such as the Strategic Logistics Platform (Strategisch Platform

Logistiek) and the Dutch Institute for Advanced Logistics (Dinalog) to further shape and
propagate the logistics future of the Netherlands. These new, government-initiated
institutions are driven by strong companies and transcend the branch level. As a result,
the Strategic Logistics Platform and Dinalog have a broad focus and are not hindered
by special interests that can often stand in the way of optimum solutions. What also
matters in this respect is not just properly organising the own 300 kilometres within
the Netherlands, but looking across the borders and connecting with parties and
initiatives which make the difference at the European level as well.


The business community

must come together


Concrete collaboration
Strategic collaboration alone will not suffice. To further streamline logistics in the future, the business
community must also simply cooperate at the operational level. Currently, the truck is often chosen
because a company is not able to fill a train on its own. More cooperation offers the solution to this.
Companies will have to take the initiative themselves in that respect, supported by control centres,
knowledge centres and/or umbrella organisations where possible. European Gateway Services of ECT is
a good example of what this may yield in practice. At a different level, the same applies to the initiative
by the European Intermodal Research Advisory Council (EIRAC) for the rollout of the CO3 Project:
Collaboration Concepts for Co-modality.


ECT provides synchromodal

transport. As the junction of the
four modes of transport, it allows
for optimum coordination.


More efficiency essential

Thus, greater efficiency is an absolute prerequisite in many ways. The European transport sector currently
generates more than 400 billion euros annually. The average occupancy rate of all that transport across
Europe now however is below 45 percent. This means that in most cases, air is transported. Jointly increasing
the occupancy rate to for example 70 percent throughout the entire logistics chain will consequently have
a great impact in terms of efficiency, costs and sustainability.
Achieving this ambition depends on many factors, but at least also requires a different allocation of
government budgets. In addition to the funding of continuously essential extra infrastructure, more means
are necessary in the future for organising transport in an alternative fashion. Synchromodality and the
further development of push systems for sustainable transport two areas in which the Netherlands and
Rotterdam have an excellent starting point are essential in that. Via European Gateway Services, ECT is
concretely leading the way in this. As a result, unimpeded and optimum transport throughout the whole
of Europe will also be possible in the future!


The future of freight transport is a publication of Europe Container Terminals (ECT). The contents are
based on conversations with Wando Bove, Director Marketing & Sales at ECT.
ECT is the leading and most advanced container terminal operator in Europe. The company handles a
majority of the containers at the port of Rotterdam. ECT operates three terminals to this extent: the
ECT Delta Terminal and the Euromax Terminal Rotterdam at the Maasvlakte and the ECT City Terminal
in the Eemhaven area (close to the city centre).Via European Gateway Services, ECT offers customers a
comprehensive range of services for an optimum transport of containers between Rotterdam and the
European market. ECT is certified by Customs as an Authorised Economic Operator (AEO).
October 2011

Europe Container Terminals BV

P.O. Box 7385
3000 HJ Rotterdam
The Netherlands
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