Synchromodal container transport

Background and problem definition

Inland transportation in networks in North-West Europe is mostly considered per corridor and not for the network as a whole. This is the case for mainly three reasons: Firstly, no suitable methods for creating an integrated network plan exist yet. Secondly, adapting the plan in real-time responding to delays and other changes occurs manually, by planning operators that focus on specific corridors and inland connections. Thirdly, because of the customer’s restrictions with its transportation orders, the network orchestrator misses the flexibility to switch between modes and routes and thus cannot achieve the benefits of synchromodal planning.

Figure 1: Synchromodal transport.


The key objective of this research is to enable synchromodal planning in inland container networks. No uniform definition for synchromodal transportation exists yet, but in this proposal a definition is used adapted from the Platform Synchromodality: Synchromodality is the optimally flexible and sustainable allocation of cargo to different modes and routes in a network under the direction of a logistics service provider, so that the customer (shipper or forwarder) is offered an integrated solution for its (inland) transport.


For achieving the objective, this study will contribute to new practical methods for solving all three problems of applying synchromodal planning in current practice:

  1. Integrated network planning: Methods for creating an integrated transportation plan for intermodal transportation networks that are operated by a network orchestrator.
  2. Methods for real-time network planning: Methods for creating the transportation plan in real-time and updating it continuously as new information arrives.
  3. Creating planning flexibility: Methods for persuading clients to allow flexible transportation planning.The proposed research approach is to improve the operational performance of the intermodal container transport network via better real-time coordination. To implement the proposed research approach, two main tasks are considered:  

New planning methods are required for both the initial transportation plan and planning updates because of changing circumstances in daily operation. This research will develop planning methods for creating the initial synchromodal transportation plan, as well as the online methods for planning updates. These methods will be used to determine how valuable certain planning flexibility is, i.e. to what extent it enables a more efficient the network transportation plan.

Apart from the challenges in transportation planning, a new type of relation with customers is required to allow synchromodal planning. Nowadays, customers ordering a container transport often explicitly specify the desired mode and departure time for the transportation, allowing very limited freedom to the network operator for network-wide optimization. This research will assess what incentives can be used for customers, for instance with different pricing mechanisms, to promote transport orders with more planning flexibility for the network operator. Determining the price incentives depends on the results about the value of planning flexibility.

Figure 2: Price differentiation as possible incentive.


PhD Candidate: B. van Riessen, MSc
Daily supervisor: Dr. R.R. Negenborn
Thesis supervisor: Prof.dr. R. Dekker