ICT expected to improve efficiency of freight logistics

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Experts gathered at a conference this week showcased existing freight information systems, exploring how individual initiatives currently in place can help the development of an integrated European ICT system across transport modes.

Representatives of logistics, transport and IT companies, together with researchers and public bodies, showcased examples of successful e-freight applications at a conference on 17 February. 

“When we are shipping freight, different modes of transport need to communicate with each other,” said Markus Brozio of German company Soptim. The firm is currently involved in a project called Retrack, which seeks to solve communication problems regarding an east-west rail freight line from Belgium to Romania. 

“But there are many technical barriers and limitations, as well as language problems,” he added, referring to different communication, security and voltage systems, for example in rail freight. 

However, building new infrastructure will not solve the problems, argued the European Commission’s director for the Trans-European Transport Network (T-TEN) and co-modality, Jonathan Scheele. While politicians like building new things and “cutting ribbons” on new tunnel and terminal openings, the focus should rather be on “using existing things more efficiently by getting the logistics chain right,” he added. 

Scheele also deplored that while there is a huge amount of information available on freight logistics, it is not interoperable, usable or extractable, making exchange of information between systems impossible. 

The biggest obstacle for e-freight in the current situation is that if an operator has developed its own system, then “keeping it is actually good for its competitiveness,” Scheele noted, adding that existing systems’ capital and intellectual property rights should not be undermined.  

The Commission insists that solutions to move towards an integrated system need to be practical and clear, and must bring added value for the users that already have their systems. In this context, all stakeholders need “to trust one another, even their competitors,” and must be ready to work together towards more efficient use of the system, concluded Scheele.

Frederic Leger of the International Air Transport Association, showcasing the airline industry’s move towards “paper-free cargo,” said the challenges faced by the sector include “partial eFreight shipments,” as some countries still require paper documents alongside their e-customs platforms, or additional information on paper. 

Indeed, some countries have simply failed to ratify international conventions on e-freight or are not implementing electronic platforms in conformity with international standards, he added.

E-freight – the development of an integrated ICT application that is capable of tracking movement of goods in and out of the EU across all modes of transport – forms part of the Commission’s 2007 action plan on freight logistics (EURACTIV 19/10/07). 

The EU executive believes that accelerated progress in ICT is “revolutionising the way in which freight transport logistics can be organised” and will automate the exchange of content-related data for regulatory or commercial purposes. 

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