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Market segments

Combined transport can be roughly divided into two important markets: seaport-hinterland transport and continental transport. Short sea transport can be regarded as a sub-form of continental transport.

The market segments differ in the way they function and in the handling units used to transport the goods. For example, only ISO containers are transported in seaport to hinterland traffic, whereas swap bodies and semi-trailers can be transported in continental traffic.

Detailed information on the market segments in CT can be found at:
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Seaport-hinterland transport

Transport of goods between European seaports and the hinterland. Trains or barges are usually used for the main leg. In seaport-hinterland transport, only ISO containers are transported.

Continental transport:

Freight transport within the European landmass. Trains, barges or small sea ships can be used on the main route. Besides containers, swap bodies and semi-trailers can be transported.

Short sea traffic

Continental traffic where part of the transport route is completed by small sea ships. In Europe, short sea traffic takes place mainly in the Baltic Sea and Mediterranean regions.

Market players

For a functioning CT market, various players are needed to organise and shape the smooth running of transport. Intermodal transport regardless of the type of transport consists of the elements of first/last-Mile, terminal handling and main tripThe players either only serve certain parts of this process, such as transhipment by terminal operators, or organise the complete door-to-door transport as a shipping company.


The shipper is the owner of the goods to be transported, who usually commissions his in-house forwarder or a shipowner to carry out the transport.

Shipping companies:

Shipping companies are organized shipping companies that deal with the organization and execution of transports. They use their own or third-party ships and offer various services. One is the door-to-door transport, known as carrier's haulage, in which the shipowner organises the first/last-Mile to and from the transhipment hub in addition to the main route of the goods on the waterway. On the other hand there is the Merchant's Haulage, where the first/last-Mile is carried out by the shipper or forwarder himself.

Terminal operators:

Terminals are operated both by railway companies or their subsidiaries and by private companies. At transhipment facilities for deep-sea and inland waterway vessels, port companies or their subsidiaries usually act as terminal operators. In most cases, the terminal operators also offer other services in addition to transhipment, such as customs clearance or storage of the goods.


In contrast to the freight forwarder, who usually only organises transport and uses a carrier in the course of this, the carrier is the company that provides the actual means of transport. This applies regardless of which means of transport is used. Depending on the mode of transport, the carrier has its own name, so in sea freight it is called carrier and in air freight it is called carrier. In pure road transport, the carrier usually acts as a subcontractor of the forwarding agents.

Port operators:

Port operators can be globally active groups of companies that operate port facilities and container terminals in various countries, or SMEs that operate a single sea or inland port.
Port operators are the gateway to hinterland traffic. This is where the goods to be transported are transshipped and distributed to the respective modes of transport. They may also act as operators themselves, organising the main flow of goods through subsidiaries in rail, inland waterway or short sea shipping (short sea).

Forwarding agents:

A freight forwarder is the service company that arranges the shipment of goods. It offers a transport service by rail, truck, airplane and sea or inland waterway vessel The freight forwarder also purchases the services of other providers, such as shipping companies for waterway transport. In addition to transport, a modern freight forwarder also deals with transshipment, storage and additional logistical services.

Multimodal freight carrier (combined transport operator):

Access to intermodal transport is usually provided for the customer by combined transport operators who offer transport services to the main European commercial centres for their customers. The central business areas of the combi operators are maritime hinterland transport and continental unaccompanied transport. The main means of transport is the railway. The combi operator's task is to find the best connection for the customer's freight units and, if necessary, to bundle individual transports in order to obtain more favourable conditions from rail transport companies. The business model of operators is very diverse and ranges from door-to-door transport, i.e. taking over and organising the first/last-Mile and the main route, to serving only individual sections, such as the main route.