Intermodality, an integrated approach between transport systems such as rail and air services, is high on the political agenda in Europe and increasingly so in other parts of the world.

It is perceived as a solution to the many transport problems facing modern societies (e.g. rising levels of accidents, emissions and noise from transport) and plays an important role by enabling better mobility for the traveler. For passengers, intermodality is best defined as combining different modes of transport in a seamless travel experience.

Studies have show that demand for intermodal travel is growing with the inception of high-speed rail services.

The sustained growth in demand for air travel has also led airlines to rethink how they can maximise the effectiveness of their networks. One option is to improve linkages with other transport modes. Intermodality can involve a combination of:

  • access to airports: local services between the airport and the neighbouring city (e.g. via train, metro, bus or even boat);
  • complementary feeder services between the airport and the various parts of the surrounding region (mainly provided by train, high-speed train, or bus);
  • competing services between major city centres of neighbouring regions; and
  • alternative services that fully replace airline feeder services to airports (in general for those services of less than three hours' train ride).

Partial or full substitution for air travel can be successful on short or medium-haul journeys of up to three hours' duration provided by a high speed train (e.g. between Brussels and Paris). In such a case, the train link can also be used to complement air travel where it can be used for the return journey or even at the beginning or end of an intercontinental flight, thus requiring that rail and air schedules, tariffs and other transport facilities be carefully coordinated.

So far, there are very few examples of intermodal cooperation, and in many cases the infrastructure that would enable intermodal travel is insufficient. Most examples of intermodality operate on a bilateral basis (e.g. a combined journey involving a railway and an airline). The next step will require an "integrated approach" with a common information and distribution system across the airline and railway system. This will allow passengers to benefit fully from the "seamless" travel experience. To achieve such integration, airports and rail infrastructure providers will need to facilitate interlinkages between rail and air and apply best practices such as common handling of baggages and information.

ATAG is promoting air/rail passenger intermodality in all regions where it is feasible. In Europe, for instance, ATAG has contributed to an in-depth study on the identification of obstacles and the development of solutions to promote air/rail passenger intermodality in the European Union.