Two-digit growth in intermodal goods transport

Posted by Bíró Koppány Ajtony

Road transport has regained its strength, rail and water declined a bit.

Domestic intermodal traffic in Hungary grew by more that 13 % last year, and a dynamic growth is to be expected in the coming years as well – these are the results of a survey conducted by the Association of Hungarian Logistics Service Centers (MLSZKSZ), which was presented at the International Logistics Conference in Herceghalom last Thursday. According to the analysis, the Corona-19 pandemic had a substantial impact on goods transport, however, road transport recovered and picked up after a significant decline in 2020. According to its press release, MLSZKSZ expects that eastbound goods transports will slow down and get more expensive as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

Global logistics left behind an intense and action-packed year, several developments accumulated, then triggered or accelerated significant changes. The impact of the Corona-19 pandemic was still critical in 2021. The sudden surge in demand and the need for overstocking resulted in confusion all along the supply chain. Freight rates remained soaring as a result of insufficient vessel transport capacities as well as scarce loading capacities in the ports. The emerging problems after Brexit could not be resolved either. The increasing shortage of drivers further aggravated the situation.

The total volume of domestic freight transport – road, rail, water – (277 million tonnes) increased by 11.8 % and its performance (54.4 billion tonne-kilometres) grew by 3 % compared to year 2020.  In domestic traffic the growth in volume increased by 15.6 % and the tonne-kilometres output grew by 13.4 %, whereas in the international field the volume increased by 2 % and the tonne-kilometres output grew by 5 %. The increase is mainly due to road transport, which after a significant decline in 2020 increased last year, and reached the highest level in years.


After several years of relapse road transport shifts to a higher gear

After its way downward since 2018 road transport took a curve in 2021 and managed to increase its volume by 16,4 % compared to last year, and its tonne-kilometres output grew by 13.4 %, surpassing even its 2019 volume by 8 %.  The biggest growth could be witnessed in domestic transport. The reasons for the picking up of domestic road freight traffic are the growth of the construction industry and the performance of e-commerce related courier services, whereas in international transport the economic growth was the main impetus with its significant import-export demand in the manufacturing industry. 79 % of the goods delivered by carriers registered in Hungary were transported by road.

The railway pulled in the brakes

The volume of rail freight traffic (49.6 million tons) decreased by 4.2 % compared to 2020, its performance (10.9 billion tonne-kilometres) dropped by 6 % with domestic transport suffering from the biggest losses. In the background of these results, we can find road transport, which after its relapse brought about by the epidemic gained strength, whereas rail traffic had to face frequent track closures, cross-border bottlenecks, recurrent ’slow-down’ signals, moreover the effects of the subsidies provided for single wagon traffic were not yet evident.

According to the analysis of MLSZKSZ despite the performance decline of rail freight traffic intermodal transport could increase its share within rail transport and has been able to keep it above 20 % for a long time with a tendency of further slow growth.

Swaying output on water

The output of the domestic inland waterway freight traffic shows a fluctuating tendency. After a huge plunge in 2018 (-18%), there was a significant rise in 2019 (24%), this swing could still persist in 2020, but only to a lesser extent (2%). However, last year the volume dropped by 8.9 %/ (8 million tons) and the forwarding capacity fell back by 6.2 % (1.9 billion kilometres). Typically, goods were transported by water to shorter distances and in lesser quantities than in 2020.

The sea vessel container traffic effecting Hungary amounted to 341 thousand twenty-foot container (TEU), with the imports arriving mainly from the south – nearly eight times the northbound traffic, whereas the export traffic was mostly balanced. Compared to the previous year, it was mainly the traffic arriving from the southern ports (Koper, Trieste, Fiume) that increased. The reason for this is the substantial demand of the Hungarian manufacturing industry for foreign raw materials, mainly from the Far-East.

Marked upward surge in intermodal transport

Domestic intermodal traffic has been growing steadily in recent years with a 13.1 % growth in 2021 compared to 2020, as nearly 751 thousand TEUs were delivered intermodally. According to the experience of MLSZKSZ the panic caused by the coronavirus epidemic in 2020, the closures, cross-border problems, infection risks and later the fear from Brexit leading to a compulsory accumulation, increased the demand for intermodal transport, and its impact hit the markets in 2021. The majority of the traffic (91 %) entered the country through three combi-terminals in Central-Hungary (BILK Combi-Terminal, Mahart Container Center, METRANS).

In the following years the share of intermodal transport is expected to grow even more dynamically, which aligns with the preferences of the EU.


This could be the solution for one of the major problems of road transport – the serious shortage of truck drivers, which is aggravated by e-commerce gaining more ground, so that even the courier services attract the drivers.


Besides intermodal transport is not hit by any congestions on the roads, it can be easily organised, it’s quicker than road transport – goods can cover even 1,200 km within 24 hours on rail (on water this takes 5-76 days).



Preferences for intermodal transport

Besides transloading containers, in the following years the rail transport of the non-craneable semi-trailers (representing the great majority of the total trailer stock) will gather ground, their technological solutions are primary pre-conditions when developing new combi-terminals. The East-West Gate combi-terminal being implemented in Fényeslitke also has this capability, meanwhile the construction of a new combi terminal has also started in Zalaegerszeg. An important step is the final definition of the route of the V0 railway ring around Budapest, the construction of which has been urged by MLSZKSZ for the last 10 years.

Transport difficulties in the conflict zone

In its quick-analysis MLSZKSZ expects that the east-bound goods transport will become difficult, slower and more expensive as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Temporarily Ukraine has become eliminated as transport route, it is avoided by rail, road and air traffic. Therefore, goods will have to be transloaded in Poland as well, which means additional costs. The prices are also influenced by the ever-increasing energy costs and the exchange rate changes of the Hungarian Forint.


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