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Long-distance freight transport can be made more efficient - We must improve, not restrict!

"We must not limit the possibilities for improving the efficiency in shipment of goods - we must find ways to better utilize the advantages of every individual mode of transportation in order to handle the right task in the transport system," says Kristoffer Skjutare, who is responsible for multimodal solutions within CLOSER, the national collaborative platform for sustainable freight transport solutions.

Multimodal solutions are developed to improve the efficiency of long-distance shipping. Preliminary work leading up to the thematic area took place in March 2019.  

We asked Kristoffer Skjutare a few questions.

What are the primary tasks of the multimodal solutions thematic area?
"To support the adaptation of the transport and logistics sector to minimise the negative effect that long-distance transport currently creates for society.  By developing knowledge and demonstrating new solutions, there are concrete requirements among participants in the sector so that we can enable more efficient use of existing infrastructure and take advantage of the unique advantages of different modes of transportation. In this way, the effect on society will be minimised."

Will there be fewer shipments?
"We must not limit the possibilities for improving the efficiency in shipment of goods - we must find ways to better utilise the advantages of every individual mode of transportation in order to handle the right task in the transport system."

The motivation for a shift to railway and maritime transport has been known for a long time, while the share of shipments by road over long distances has increased.' How will it be possible to implement this change?
"The key is collaboration and communication. We at CLOSER are now taking the initiative and gathering forces within industry, academics and public authorities to collectively discuss challenges and advance the knowledge and testing required to bring about a change.  Concrete tests and demonstrates create commitment and concrete results that can help public authorities and industry make a reasoned decision that contributes to a shipping sector with increased sustainability and more efficient use of resources."

Isn't there a risk that a specific mode or modes of transportation will be shown favour in this work?
"The basic idea is that no mode of transportation will be left out in the effort to improve efficiency in the transport network. With continuous improvements and development, all modes of transportation will become more efficient and sustainable with respect to the area of application for which they can be considered best-suited. Each individual mode of transportation should be seen as a toolbox where the most suitable mode should be used for the right task in the transport chain. And, depending on access to the infrastructure and available capacity in terminals, various combinations can be required."

Can you describe the work involved with the thematic area started?
"We carried out the preliminary work in March 2019. We invited a reference group of participants for an initial discussion relating to the direction and objectives for work during 2019, as well as perspectives for coming years."

"During the spring we are conducting in-depth interviews with a number of participants from the sector. The idea is to gather experience with respect to the challenges that limit multimodal transport solutions and create a picture of the areas where there is a need for innovation and test and demonstration activities that are seen as the most currently applicable from a short-term perspective."

How would you describe the overall objective?
"Finding answers to how combinations of new technology, digitalisation, new business models and collaborations can contribute to an increased desired from the goods owners to actively seek multimodal transport solutions. We see that innovation which leads to more effective transhipment between vehicles and ships can contributed to improved costs, which is expected to increase the attraction of shipping freight multimodally."

A political decision was made in Sweden last year in favour of a freight transport strategy that shows the direction of the transport and logistics system of the future. What effect does it have?
"It’s positive. We know what the political ambition is.  Now conditions are being created to shift the strategy to concrete projects and demonstrations in which CLOSER can act as an important neutral engine for innovation. We work together with the state authorities that have been given the task to create a better knowledge base within the area and thus provide support to individual organisations in how they see the possibility of increased utilisation of railway and maritime shipping as a complement to road transport."

What is the result of the requirement analysis thus far?
"At this point, we have held about 10 interviews with participants within industry, academics and public authorities. We sense a great deal of interest for the matter and already see a nuanced picture of the challenges that we face with respect to how to contribute to meet the political objectives that have been established to create a sustainable and cost-efficient freight transport system for the future." 

It has been said that logistics is often not about building something new, rather using what we have. Can you explain this?
"We want to develop solutions with new technology, new work approaches and collaborations in order to utilise existing infrastructure more effectively. It is a failure from a logistics perspective when we invest in new infrastructure without first make the most of and utilise existing, unutilised infrastructure. 
With support of digitalisation and connection, we can improve communication between organisations, e.g. with better prognoses, real-time updating and similar measures. It aids better fill rates and optimised flows of goods."

Now, you are going to work from a grass roots perspective. How?
"In short, our project will be close to the market. The goal is that we will have project results from testing and demonstrations that can be implemented and utilised commercially. This is vital for the project activity within CLOSER. This requires that participants and decision-makers have common objectives and jointly discuss and solve challenges."

"We want to avoid major policy projects where, unfortunately, there is not often a clear recipient of the results and the will to continue to develop the work peters after the project's financing."

What position does Sweden have in an international comparison? 
"Sweden is a small country in the north that is sparsely populate and widespread transport volumes. Our biggest competitive advantage is that we have a long tradition of collaborating and identifying collective solutions in order to meet the challenges facing us.  We have a solid understanding of the negative effects of the transport sector with respect to emissions and thus a high ambition of becoming one of the world's first fossil-free countries."

"We - politicians, goods owners, freight companies and technology providers - have every opportunity of contributing to achieve the established climate goals together.  This required a great deal of innovation and a desire to change."

Is Sweden at the vanguard? 
"Sweden and the Swedish transport and logistics sector have good conditions to get in the driver's seat and pave the way for other countries. We can export our knowledge and simultaneously incorporate good ideas and experiences from other countries. We at CLOSER want to function as a knowledge node and facilitator that creates a combines force within transport and logistics with a focus on long-distance, effective freight transport, among other things."

What is the outlook for the future?
"In the autumn, work within the thematic area will go into an operative phase. We will finely comb Swedish transport and logistics sector in order to find interesting and important challenges requiring innovation."

"A first concrete step is to communicate the requirement analysis that has been compiled during the spring. This, together with reports from our partners will help CLOSER focus on the right requirement. An important instrument is the trusting discussions that take place in our roundtable discussions whose primary purpose is to discuss and define joint project proposals between the contributing participants."

Finally, is it really feasible to make transport more sustainable without putting the general public welfare at risk? 
"Economic development is supported by efficient transport. It is a matter of improving effectiveness - to change today's transport and logistics system without putting effective mobility at risk.  We will focus on increasing the fill rate of shipments, using the right mode of transportation for each part of the shipment and finding new, renewable and efficient fuels."