Intermodal logistics models can help curb a supply chain’s carbon footprint

 Short sea intermodal shipping is commonly confused with feeder shipping – and sometimes on purpose. MacAndrews & Co. explain more

Deep sea operators have often tried to compete with short sea intermodality by establishing dedicated feeder services that link with their long-haul trades – only to find that it takes more than a feeder link to compete effectively. On the other side, trucks have served the intra-European supply chains with very fast lead-times to service JIT business models. However, with today’s economic volatility and escalating fuel costs, pure overland trailer operations are too financially challenged to provide stable, cost-efficient, long-term solutions.

Short sea intermodal is a seamless and more cost-efficient integration of the sea leg using rail and/or land legs on either end. Short sea carriers can directly offer value-added services such as ‘milk-round’ collections and deliveries, consolidation, and warehousing. Customers are primarily the manufacturers, either direct importers or exporters. They entrust their door-to-door requirements to a single operator for better reliability and control on deliveries (for when the cargo actually needs to be there) and without having to worry about coordinating all the day-to-day logistics. The complexity of the operations is such that the barrier to new entry into short sea intermodal transport is high. With the clamping down on carbon emissions and new legislations from the European Directive, supply chains are even under more pressure today to review the way they work. What alternatives are available to ensure supply chain integrity and control over the logistics process which provide both principles of economy and help curb a supply chain’s carbon footprint? The fruit of the inevitable rising trend of combining various modalities in order to solve the growing environmental, economic and safety problems is indeed Intermodal Logistics.
As an example, in 2010 alone, UK-based, short sea carrier MacAndrews & Co., Ltd. carried 166,015 teus logistics solutions in a way that optimised their CO2 emissions. Within its trade lanes, the strategy led to a saving of 248% on air pollution alone and a 303% saving on total contribution of global warming, if, for instance, all of the cargo was carried using purely road services. That’s a total of 140,000 tonnes of CO2 saved.
Combining sea, road and rail into an optimal and seamless transport solution is something more and more supply chains have begun to consider in the daily runnings of their business. The European Commission once said that to be a viable option to road haulage, short sea shipping must be a genuine door-to-door concept and achieve full integration in the transport and supply chain.
One of the largest trusted food manufacturers in the world have adopted MacAndrews’ logistics model and it is proving to work well for the dynamics of their supply chain. The company had already cut 2.3 million road miles per annum from its UK-bound consignments of products from various factories around Europe as a result of its decision to transport at least 90 per cent of product by sea. This involved a partnership in having a cross docking warehouse in Spain in an effort to further cut any environmental and financial impact. Consolidating container packing at a single site means the company can maximise container space and further save on road miles when product arrives in at its destination. This subsequently led the company to winning the best in the industry Short Sea Award recently. Other MacAndrews block train services to and from the port of Bilbao include Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Seville and Zaragoza.
In line with MacAndrews’ vision to further support shippers’ sustainability initiatives to lessen their carbon footprint, the intermodal group has launched a Spanish-based specialized reefer service linking the south and north of the country by rail. The trains carry fresh produce from Murcia, close to the Spanish Mediterranean coast, to Bilbao in the Bay of Biscay for onward transportation to the rest of Europe on MacAndrews vessels. The service, which is being run in partnership with Continental Rail and Grupo Fuentes, began on April 24th and utilises the shipping line’s 45 ft reefer containers. This new structure will also further shorten transit times and lessen CO2 emissions even further. The service will initially run once a week as part of a test phase, but will be upgraded to twice weekly in May and eventually be daily. The new venture involved investment in a modern system of onboard generators on the trains to supply the power needed to operate the reefer boxes, along with a temperature monitoring systems.
There are niche short sea carriers within the intra-European market who, with pro-active management and seriously trained staff are making it their priority to create sustainable solutions for every freight handler that wants to achieve a more cost-effective, more reliable, and more environmentally friendly business infrastructure.
Corporate ambitions – and visions – can indeed be decarbonised even further with this type of transport model implemented within their intra-European Supply Chains — as long as the manufacturing base is willing to consider available and viable alternatives.