EuroPORT - Optimising Intermodal Freight Transport through European Ports

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International freight transport has been growing at a high rate from the middle of 1990s during approximately 15 years all over the world. Despite the last years with a general global economic recession transport is growing again and recovering rates of the last decade. As a result, and with ports as fundamental and main part of inter-modal global transport in the world, new problems appear derived from that rapid growth.

The growth in freight transport stresses the existing infrastructure to its limits. There are already considerable signs of congestion in the European transport system, e.g. on the roads and in harbours. Congestion will have a negative impact on the costs and time of transportation, which affects the prices and the quality of products.

Objectives of the service

The objectives of this study are to assess the technical feasibility and commercial viability of an integrated solution and associated services which support the optimization of freight transport through ports, based on a better understanding of users and stakeholders' needs, transport conditions, better information exchange, and the use of space assets.  

This study is focused on looking for gaps or steps of the intermodal transport logistic chain that nowadays are inefficient and could be improved using new tools based on space assets like satellite communication, satellite navigation and earth observation.

Users and their needs

Optimising intermodal freight transport through ports includes many users and other stakeholders, relevant for the successful implementation of a solution and associated services under consideration in this study;

Private sector:

  • Shipping Lines
  • Shipping agents
  • Freight forwarders
  • Logistic operators
  • Custom agents
  • Terminal operations
  • Haulage transport operators
  • Rail/River transport operators
  • Shippers

Public sector:

  • Port Authorities
  • Maritime Authorities and bodies
  • Customs
  • Other public agencies
  • Port Authorities
  • Maritime Authorities and bodies
  • Customs
  • Other public agencies

During discussions with the users and stakeholders, the following needs and opportunities for improvement of the present intermodal freight operations are identified:

  • Improvement in communications between shipping companies, ports and hauliers, in particular addressing the problems associated with different companies operating different and sometimes incompatible logistics, scheduling and information management systems;
  • Providing better information of the position of freight (and their associated transport vehicle), and their estimated times of arrival and departure, to plan the transfer of the freight from one modality to another;
  • Supporting users in the optimisation of freight transport through the ports, in order to reduce congestion, delays and resultant fuel consumption and emissions,
  • Providing visibility of freight movements to hauliers for the purpose of facilitating their ability to pick up backhaul opportunities and thereby avoid empty running;
  • Improving the safety and security of intermodal freight transport in the ports; 
  • Preparing interfaces for likely new regulatory requirements, e.g. emanating from the USA on security and traceability of freight, i.e. to show where vehicles have been, where and for how long they have stopped; 

Service/ system concept

The EUROPORT integrated solution is intended to provide:EUROPORT services

    • An overview produced by means of collection, analysis, interpretation and visualisation - when appropriate through a graphical interface - of data and information received from and shared with different authorities, platforms and other sources in order to optimize intermodal transport that uses ports; and
    • A tool that supports the operational planning and the reaction capability of the end users involved in intermodal transport.
    • Based on all the above elements, the definition of EUROPORT integrated solution comprises the following three groups of services:
    • Service 1 - Haulage Operations: aggregates functionalities which will improve the haulage process by optimizing operations directly affecting or related with port operations.
    • Service 2 - Ship Voyages Optimization: provides functionalities which will improve the calculation of ship ETA and ETD to/from ports.
    • Service 3 - Port Operations: provide functionalities that support the planning and optimization of intermodal transport operations in ports and terminals.

EUROPORT services and benefits

Space Added Value

Satellite assets offers the potential to add value in the following ways,

  • Understanding the positioning of the modalities or transports (including their freight) is essential in the planning and scheduling process. Satellite Navigation is already widely use in fleet and vessel management, and to some extent in the tracking and tracing of freight.
  • Timely communication of planning and scheduling information is key in optimising freight transport.  Satellite communication offers global coverage and redundancy to ensure continuity of communications on land.
  • New earth observation services provide information on ocean currents and sea state conditions, providing additional opportunities for optimisation of seaborne freight transport.

Product Benefits

It is known that routing and scheduling of inter-modal freight traffic to, from and through ports is sub optimal. Some existing systems as Port Community Systems (PCS) are used with the intention to improve scheduling of freight transport trough ports.

However, further improvement of routing and scheduling of freight through ports is needed.

The expected benefits of an integrated solution in support of optimizing intermodal freight transport through ports are: 

  • Reduced ship waiting time for berths,
  • Reduced delays of ship leaving berths, due to late arrival of freight by trucks, rail or inland waterways,
  • Improved efficiency in the routing election of trucking companies for their vehicles choosing better activity port,
  • Eliminate lack of information for both operators and customers on the location, content and status of cargoes.

Product Features

The EUROPORT architecture is divided into two main subsystems called "EUROPORT Central Hub" and "EUROPORT On-board Device":

    • The "Central Hub" is the heart of the integrated solution. It is the central node of the EUROPORT integrated solution that typically will be installed on dedicated servers on the data centre of the EUROPORT integrated solution provider. The "EUROPORT Central Hub" performs the integration with already existing third party platforms (like Port Community Systems, Weather Forecasting services, Vessel Tracking Services, Fleet Management services ...) adding extra functionalities and data where needed to provide the envisaged EUROPORT services.
    • The "EUROPORT On-board Device" is going to be installed on board vehicles of the Haulage companies. It is the remote node of the EUROPORT integrated solution and the main way that vehicle drivers interact with the system. The "EUROPORT On-board Device" will be implemented through a EUROPORT application that will run on a "Smart phone" using 3G as channel of communication with the EUROPORT "Central Hub".

EUROPORT internal system architecture

Of uttermost importance to the EUROPORT integrated solution are the existing systems (like Port Community Systems, Weather Forecasting services, Vessel Tracking Services, Fleet Management services ...) which are the main data providers to the integrated platform. All systems will therefore continue to exist and process their data as they are doing today. The main change in terms of data output is that in addition to the existing system specific data distribution rules, data from each system is also made available to the EUROPORT integrated solution for the purpose of building integrated data flows, always in compliance with defined data access rights.

In addition, EUROPORT is also able to ingest and process 3rd party data/information in accordance with their associated data access rights and either fuse or display this data separately, as required.

Key Issues

The key issues addressed in the project are:

  • Improving the understanding of the conditions influencing the intermodal freight transport through European ports, identifying the user's needs and defining their requirements
  • Improving the availability and exchange of information
  • Analyse the reasons for the underutilisation of information sources such as weather information and new earth observation services
  • Identifying the current deficiencies and technological gaps that represent a barrier to meet the user and stakeholders requirements
  • Proposing architectures to overcome these deficiencies, driving to an integrated solution and associated services whose performances are suitable for their operational use at a Pan-European level
  • Develop an economically viable and sustainable solution, which is based on a sound business case, both for the service provider as well as the end users

Current Status

In December 2011, a Workshop with the end users from the Liverpool port community (PeelPorts, ACL and JMD) was held in Liverpool in order to understand the needs and opportunities from the user community related to improving intermodal freight transport through ports. Further identification of needs and requirements of the users was established through interview with Spanish user organisations.

Based on the expression of user needs, a deliverable on "User/Stakeholder Overview and Analysis Requirements" has been prepared and validated with the users. Further to this, a deliverable "State of the Art analysis" has been drafted to understand the present technologies and systems in intermodal freight transport management. Both document form the basis for the identification and definition of the EUROPORT services and the system providing the services.

EUROPORT Proof of Concept has been performed.  Port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife,,  located in the Canary Island (Spain), was the environment selected for this activity.  The EUROPORT integrated solution was developed partially focusing on the truck gate operations scenario bearing in mind the identified critical elements in the project.  Integration with existing systems, "truck drivers as active agents" and container tracking were the EUROPORT critical elements selected for the Proof of concept.  For this purpose an On-board device application, a core EUROPORT server platform and interfaces with the Tenerife Port Management System were developed.

EUROPORT web page screen of a port user where to allow gate-in


EUROPORT app PoC Gate In process

The Proof of Concept "storyboard" consisted of a container vessel from the Grupo Alonso, a shipping line, carrying out the transport of a container from Algeciras Port to the container terminal of Tenerife Port where it was unloaded.  A truck, from a local transport company, performed several voyages to the container terminal gate to pick-up the expected container.  At the same time, the different actors involved in the Proof of concept were performing their expected roles.  The truck driver was using the EUROPORT on-board device application on a Smartphone connected with the EUROPORT core platform to interchange information, transport order status, events, and action requests.

Also special and sensitive messages of authorization to leave the port terminal carrying dangerous goods are delivered directly to the truck driver taking advantage of the integration of EUROPORT platform with the Tenerife Port Management System.  In parallel, EUROPORT core platform is in permanent communication with end users such as Port Authority, Terminal operators, and Trucking company in order to interchange information necessary for operations to be performed by the truck driver and in terms of monitoring the transport order status in real time.

Following this proof of concept, assessment activities were performed about the EUROPORT solution with positive results.  Integration with existing port/terminal and container tracking systems were validated properly during the proof of concept.  Some comments were received from Trucking companies expressing their concern about the need to limit the number of actions and inputs required from the truck drivers.

The EUROPORT integrated solution has shown, during the Proof of concept, the capability to reduce queues in the terminal/port gates, improve the management of transport orders, and improve the control of cargo inside the port.  Furthermore, this solution has the potential to come to a fully operational service in a reasonable timeframe starting with a demonstration project. 

Status Date

Updated: 11 June 2012 - Created: 15 February 2014