Freight forwarding standards in 2023: intermodal hinterland transports

In the decentralized world of global logistics, we wanted to create a better understanding of how freight forwarders operate, but also poll their opinions of the sector.

Here, we present an infographic and our findings in text that offers insights to the prevailing trends and practices among freight forwarders in 2023.

First, let us define the scope of the research. We only surveyed freight forwarders who already work with intermodal transports and who are based in Germany. The respondents represent all business sizes. They were asked about topics relating to intermodal transports, transport management, and communication with subcontractors. 

To understand the motivation behind choosing intermodal transports, we foremost wanted to understand the perceived pros and cons of intermodality. 

Intermodal hinterland transports pros and cons

The freight forwarders were asked to give one or two main reasons for why the forwarder had chosen to work with intermodal transports. 

A whopping 88% stated they made the choice for intermodal because of the more beneficial pricing. The long rail leg is cheaper than the corresponding distance by unimodal trucking. This is in line with the 75% who said price alone is the primary decision factor for booking any specific transport. 

Almost half of the respondents said that rail offers better volumes compared to truck only. 

It is interesting to note, but not surprising, that reasons relating to sustainability or the environment were only mentioned as a main reason for 33% of the respondents. One of the forwarders surveyed even commented that the sustainability question at this point is only greenwashing.

We also asked if the forwarders experienced or perceived any deterrence for intermodal transports. The same number of responses were recorded for the following primary reasons: rail delays, lack of transparency, and lack of capacity.

Intermodal transports requiring more complex planning and the inadequate infrastructure were other common answers. One forwarder pointed out that at the end of the day, intermodal transports are only possible where there is a depot and terminal available.

Many of these reasons are exactly why we built rouvia. With our freight management system, we want to bring transparency and efficiency to multimodal hinterland transports. 

Intermodal hinterland transport management

As we dug into the pain points of transport management for hinterland transports specifically, it became clear that the lack of transparency was felt across the board. The lack of transparency comes about in several ways, such as the inability to track containers on rail and the difficulty in getting an overview of live capacity. 

Planning complexities arise from that there is not one system that can cover everything, especially transparency on available rail capacity. This is the opposite of air freight and sea freight that already is generally managed digitally.

The human factor was a recurring theme, as so many of the pain points could be related to the error risk factor associated with manual workflows. Examples were wide-ranging: errors that come about from trying to work too quickly or from lack of automated status updates. 

What solutions do freight forwarders wish for? 

  • Everything on one platform, all providers and the full transport chain 
  • Track and trace on every container and every mode of transport
  • Full transparency on price and capacity
  • Standardization across the industry


It was no surprise to find out nearly everyone communicate with their subcontractors via email. In fact, 95% said that email was part of their regular communication flow. The majority, 55%, also said email was their primary form of communication with subcontractors. 

Phone calls are also still common, though mostly mentioned as the preferred method of communication when an issue needs quick resolving or last minute requests. 

A mention also goes out to subcontractors who maintain customer portals through which they manage their communication. 

Almost all freight forwarders associate the current communication flows with pain points in the hinterland transport chain. What was pointed out especially, was the delay that inevitably occurs when two people or teams solely communicate via email for bookings is that once you finally establish what capacity you require the capacity is no longer available.

Digital solutions and tools

We asked the freight forwarders if they use any type of digital tool to manage hinterland transports and their associated subcontractor network. To our surprise, the answers were evenly distributed between internally developed solutions, internal admin systems, and not using a tool at all. A slight majority have invested in an external solution. 

When the majority of the respondents have made commented on the complexity associated with intermodal hinterland transports, an assumption would easily be made that a tool or solution that could help mitigate these would be a high priority. 

Our freight management system rouvia, for example, removes the complexities from container hinterland transport planning, and in turn greatly improve the efficiency of your operations. 

If you are a freight forwarding business who is interested in learning more about how a digital solution can help you get more done in less time, get in touch with us to schedule a free demo. 

Lovisa Andersson
Logistics writer
December 12, 2023

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