What are the prospects for multimodal logistics in Europe?

Multimodal transportation has a future in Europe

says Colliers International in its latest report: “Multimodal: Shaping the Future of European Logistics” 

  • Green policy, Corporate Social Responsibility and infrastructure development/upgrade will underpin growth of multimodal logistics in Europe.
  • While multimodal infrastructure in logistics parks is mostly seen as being “nice to have” for now, it will represent a greater competitive advantage over road-only platforms in future as the market matures.
  • Multimodal transportation has a future in cities as well. The public sector has a clear role to play in facilitating the modal shift, through a pro-active planning policy and bringing together parties with often divergent interests.

Multimodal logistics moves freight by combining two or more transport modes. In this area, Europe still lags the more advanced US market but has made steady progress. In its latest industrial research for the EMEA region highlights a number of examples of established and emerging European multimodal platforms and discusses the drivers and prospects for multimodal logistics in Europe, concluding that there are reasons to be optimist for this mode of transportation going forward.

The future drivers of multimodal traffic in European corridors:

Mega Projects

Infrastructure is vital in enhancing the efficiency and competitiveness of multimodal transportation against trucking only. Most ongoing infrastructure projects in Europe concern upgrades of existing lines and platforms, like ports. Many European ports have set-out modal split targets and have embarked on ambitious infrastructure investment programmes to get there. Due to importance of maritime trade, ports have a clear role in facilitating the modal shift.

There are also some mega-projects: “The largest project in Europe is probably the Alpine-crossing between Switzerland and Italy – this is a key section of one of Europe’s most important trade corridor, connecting Northern Europe’s seaports with Northern Italy through Germany “ said Bruno Berretta – Associate Director, EMEA Research at Colliers.

“The Gotthard Tunnel opened in 2016 and a second tunnel is being dug on the same line and will open in 2019 that will boost train traffic by ca. 60% from 160 to 260/day. This is will unlock opportunities for multimodal logistics, and we are reading seeing some operators stepping up investment in new facilities and interchange platforms along this corridor” Berretta concluded.

Selected European multi-modal infrastructure projects

ProjectCountry(ies)Planned completion
Gotthard and Monte Ceneri tunnelsSwitzerland/ItalyGotthard open – Monte Ceneri from 2019
Seine Nord Europe CanalFrance2025 (first segments operational from 2021/2022)
Koper-Divaca second-railway trackSlovenia2022
Belgrade-Budapest high-speed rail

(key section of the new rail corridor between port of Piraeus in Greece and Hungary)


 Paris Leads the Way

Multimodal logistics has a future within cities as well. While, lorries/vans dominate last-mile distribution due to their ubiquity/speed, planned bans/restrictions on vehicles in European city centres mean that road based distribution may not be sustainable at current levels in the future. Rail and waterways provide an alternative and will increasingly complement eco-friendly vehicles within the last-mile in cities.

“Paris is one of the leading European cities in this regard, having embarked on a strategic initiative to redevelop city logistics hubs around major rail transportation nodes and along the Seine. New development incorporates ‘logistic hotels’ into larger, mixed-use developments” said Berretta.

Local authorities have a key role to play in making this happen through proactive planning policy and by engaging with the various stakeholders involved (cargo originators, freight forwarding, rail operators, landowners and the community).“Bringing together what can be a divergent range of interests is a challenge, but recent examples of successful developments in Paris show there is a way forward” concluded Berretta.

Ride the Green Wave

Multimodal transportation sometimes comes at an extra-cost due to transhipment operations, particularly over shorter distances. “Nonetheless, there is greater acceptance within the corporate world that the higher short-term costs associated with more sustainable transport solutions can be justified by the long-term benefits in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the fact that at some point more stringent environment regulation is likely to come into force” says Tim Davies, Head of EMEA

Improving multi-modal infrastructure, the diminishing cost of technology and the ability to deliver scale will contribute to make multimodal (rail in particular) a more compelling proposition from an economic point of view as well.

Major players shaping Multimodal Logistics:

Policymakers are keen to shift more freight off-the road to reduce carbon emissions and encourage more sustainable transport solutions. One of the objectives set out by the EU in its Transport 2050 Roadmap is for 30% of road freight traffic on distances over 300 km to be shifted to rail or waterborne transport by 2030, increasing to 50% by 2050. Over these distances, rail freight is understood to be both a cost and emissions-effective alternative to road-borne traffic.

Construction and materials companies and the automotive sector are traditionally some of the most intensive users of rail. More retailers, like supermarkets, are embracing multimodal logistics for some of their products too. France’s Monoprix for example moves 55% and 35% of its imports from the ports to its warehouses by water and rail respectively. Tesco in the UK uses rail to supply local distribution centres from its Daventry depot, and has recently announced a new rail service from China.

Shippers continue to expand their offering of multimodal services leveraging favourable policy, infrastructure improvements and emerging trade corridors where rail/barge is a particularly interesting proposition in terms of cost/speed. These include connections with the Turkey and Far East: in January, the UK was the latest European country to be added to the rail freight service from China. While there is a greater focus on rail and waterways transportation, shippers continue to upgrade their road fleet by switching to more fuel-efficient vehicles.


Developers/investors are increasingly committed to provide multimodal infrastructure on site to maximise connectivity and cater to the highest number of occupiers possible. Interest is generally proportional to the maturity of the local rail freight industry. The UK provides some of the most recent examples of rail-linked logistics parks, being Europe’s third largest market for domestic combined transport (road-rail) after Germany and Italy. The busiest multimodal transport corridors are Germany-Italy, connecting the two most industrialised countries in Western Europe; the inlands connections of the North Sea ports (Rotterdam/Antwerp) and the links between Germany and its supply chain.