ITS Nationals Network leads debate on smart intermodal freight

The Network of National ITS Associations presented a special interest session on Smart Intermodal Freight at the European ITS Congress in Lisbon.  The session attracted a full house which joined in a lively and informed discussion.

The ITS associations of Finland, Norway, Germany and Estonia contributed speakers and ITS Ireland helped out with the organisation of the session.  Thanks to the ability of the Network to harness expertise from so many different European countries, the panel included experienced professionals from rail, marine and road freight, and was able to talk meaningfully about how to achieve seamless intermodality and remove cross border friction.

The discussion centred on two themes:  how to turn research and demonstrations into permanent implementations, and what the role of AI (Artificial Intelligence) might be in the future freight sector.

As in other areas of ITS, projects and testbeds seem to be more ubiquitous than permanent applications.  The panel agreed that in some ways this perception is unfair;  it is just that the time lapse from first research topic to fully embedded system can be ten or even twenty years, which can give the impression that few things actually translate into everyday usage.  In other aspects it is true;  issues of piecemeal and somewhat arbitrary funding, lack of effective collaboration between bodies which really should be active partners, and poorly executed stakeholder engagement, can all slow down or even sabotage eventual implementation.

Talking about AI, the panel agreed that this will definitely be important in the future freight sector.  Making an analogy with automated vehicles, they suggested that AI will be gradually adopted by the freight industry and rejected the idea of a current or imminent “revolution”.  Some promising use cases proposed included security both of loads and of staff, the speeding up of cross modal and cross border transfers, and better conditions for drivers achieved by more intelligent and adaptable routing and rostering. 

A very good case was made for the importance of universally accepted standards and protocols, if full digitisation of the end to end logistics chain is to be achieved.  That it needs to be achieved in order to unlock cost savings, less environmentally damaging freight moments, and improved conditions for all the humans involved in them, was not in doubt.

The panelists were:  Lone-Eirin Lervåg from Norway, Tim Knutzen (Germany), Heiti Mering (Estonia), and Jukka Lepistö (Finland).  The session was moderated by Jennie Martin on behalf of the Network and co-organised by Donal Hodgins of ITS Ireland.

(Picture by Paul Hutton)