WIT Press

Towards more environmentally sustainable intercontinental freight transport


Free (open access)


Volume 4 (2020), Issue 2



Page Range

129 - 141

Paper DOI



WIT Press


Frans Bal & Jaap Vleugel


In a world where the population and many economies are expanding rapidly the demand for freight transport keeps rising accordingly. As more goods are transported by a growing number of freight vehicles, in particular trucks and sea vessels, their already considerable negative environmental impact
also rises. Technology advances, but demand growth (partially) counteracts its positive impact on fuel consumption and emissions. In road transport, CO2-emissions keep rising, while emissions of NOx and PM10 have been reduced, at least in those countries where the most advanced engine technologies are used, although locally serious problems may remain. In areas where such technologies are not available, more freight transport means higher emissions and negative health effects. Sea shipping sees increasing emission levels overall. Maritime transport and trucking dominate intercontinental freight transport.
Modernisation of railways and roads offers opportunities to reduce emissions by using rail for part of the journey. In a market setting, this means that transport providers have to redesign transport chains. Some have done this already, while others are increasingly interested. To assess the potential, the following
main research question was addressed: Is it possible to reduce emissions of CO2, NOx and PM10 by replacing the maritime leg of a transport service by road and/or rail transport in the corridor Antwerp (Belgium) – Shanghai (China) without logistic penalties? Various combinations of trucking, sea and rail transport were fed into a simulation model to estimate the accompanying emissions and trip times. The new services offer a complex range of positive and negative impacts; hence governments should carefully consider their support. In a simulation study only a very stylised representation of these services can be modelled. This leads to an advice for a more in-depth study to include additional (technical, service and cost) data.


Intercontinental freight transport, fuel consumption, emissions, trip time, simulation, evaluation.