The term Combined Transport (CT) covers multi-modal transport chains in which the loading units are transferred between the different modes of transport, i.e. road, rail, inland waterway or sea. Combined Transport is a special form of intermodal transport and is defined as “intermodal transport in which the major part of the European journey is by rail, inland waterway or sea and any initial and/or final legs carried out by road are as short as possible”.1

Characteristics of CT

  • Intermodal transport chain
  • Standardized loading units (container, swap body, semi-trailer, complete truck
  • Transfer of cargo between different modes of transport (road, rail, inland waterway or sea)
  • Systematic facilitation of the change between different transport modes

Elements of CT

  • Bundling of (cargo) volumes in the main leg by means of mass transport (rail, inland or maritime vessel) over longer distances
  • First and last leg by truck over short(er) distances
  • Standardized loading unit remains unchanged
  • Transshipment terminals as interfaces between transport modes


Combined Transport chains typically consist of the first leg (also called pre-haulage), main leg and last leg (also called post-haulage). The main leg hereby makes up the longest transport segment, which is covered by the different transport modes mentioned above.

One or more standardized loading units are loaded with transport goods at the source (shipper). The loading unit is then transported via truck to a transshipment point (source terminal) by a forwarder or carrier. The  first leg is completed at the terminal.

Transshipment of all delivered loading units takes place at the source terminal. In the context of the transport order, the respective loading units are loaded onto the main mode of transport or means of mass transport, rail or inland waterway. Subsequently, the main leg, i.e. the longest transport segment, to a specific destination is carried out using the appropriate mode of transport. In the destination terminal, the loading units are transshipped once again.

The loading units are then transported regionally by truck onward to their final destination (recipient), where the standardized loading is unloaded. The goods remain in the same loading unit from source to destination.



Combined transport is subject to some prejudices regarding its effectiveness and profitability. As a rule of thumb, CT will only pay off at a minimum transport distance of 500 km, plus it is only suitable for a certain number of goods and products. A common assumption is that high-quality and fragile goods, in particular, are unsuitable for CT. Undoubtedly, the advantages of combined transport lie in the area of ​​long-distance transport. However, CT may well be worthwhile even at shorter distances. Cost advantages should therefore always be checked in each individual case. Relevant factors for creating a suitable transport offer are quantity, distance, connection and frequency of transport. In addition, “soft” criteria such as quality, environment and safety must be taken into account and companies must be informed accordingly. This may result in an improvement of a company’s image, for example with the slogan “we drive environmentally conscious”. Likewise, the knowledge about quality and safety of individual transport systems might cause a change of thinking or a different transport decision. In general, combined transport offers numerous advantages from administrative and economic perspectives.


Vehicles employed in the first and final leg to or from the nearest suitable terminal within 150 kilometers may have a total weight of 44 tons (in contrast to vehicles in normal road transport with a permissible maximum weight of 40 tons). The transport of larger quantities here leads to a reduction of truck journeys.

For vehicles employed during the first and final leg of CT no vehicle tax is due, provided that the journeys take place within 150km air-line distance from or to the terminal.

Road tolls for kilometers driven by truck can be reduced or even avoided by using CT. Toll fees apply only to routes on highways and some federal highways during the first and final leg of the transport.

Vehicles employed during the first and final leg of CT are exempted from driving bans on Sundays and public holidays. However, the distance traveled by truck may not exceed 200 km from the train station to the consignee/consignor or 150 km from the port terminal to the consignee/consignor.

Rail and ship transport in CT usually take place in scheduled services, by which predictability and an optimal order processing can be guaranteed. Every kilometer not driven by truck leads to a reduction or to the elimination of driver rest periods. The consequences are free personnel capacities, reduced costs for maintenance, and compatibility of family and work through short first and final leg transports instead of long-distance transports.


Summarizing cargoes on mass means of transportation creates cost advantages per transported ton.

The use of CT diminishes truck traffic on the road. The negative perception of trucks in long-distance traffic by the population is reduced (empty highways and federal highways, less traffic jams, less pollutant emissions, etc.).

Permanent transport monitoring, central operating control of track-guided traffic routes (rail) and inland waterway transport result in a high level of transport safety, especially concerning the transport of dangerous goods.

The summary of cargoes on mass means of transportation and the reduction of truck transports has a positive impact on the CO2 balance per loading unit. In particular, rail and inland waterways are considered to be environmentally friendly modes of transport. In the course of the Federal Government’s climate protection goals, an increasing shift from road to rail or inland waterway is being sought (ECOTransIT, TREMOD).

CT combines the strengths of the individual modes of transport: regional point-to-point delivery by truck, bundling of large volumes over long distances by means of mass transportation, such as rail, inland waterway or ocean vessels.

1 UN/ECE (2001), Terminologie des KV, Mitteilung der europäischen Kommission COM(97)243