The most developed use today of waterway-road combined transport relates to the pre and post shipping of containers by inland waterway between a sea port and an inland waterway port. Waterway transport provides the main transport between the sea port and its hinterland where the goods are picked up by road to be taken to their final destination.
At the same time, the competitiveness of waterway transport and the modernisation of associated logistics techniques enable the development of strictly national services relying on the use of intermodal transport units (ITU). Finally, the use of sea transport « waterway/sea » coaster operators makes possible direct links between inland ports and also inland ports and sea ports separated by sea.

Over the last ten years, waterway combined transport has seen strong growth. In France, this dynamic can be seen in all waterway systems: Seine, Rhône-Saône, Rhine, Moselle and Nord – Pas-de-Calais. In 2008, nearly 400,000 TEU used the inland waterways in France, i.e. a three-fold increase in traffic over a decade.

There are three distinguishable types of waterway-road combined transport:

  • Inland waterways in pre and post shipping used in the transport of containers to/from major sea ports.
  • « Fluvio-maritime« : sea-going ships suitable for inland waterway navigation.
  • Les Intra-continental waterway transport by ITU.

The most frequent configuration is the transport of ocean containers by inland waterway between sea and inland ports. Pre or post shipping is done by road or, less commonly, by rail. In this case combined transport occurs as an extension to sea shipping lines, using container-carrying ships.

Another type of chain, although less frequent, is developing. Goods, loaded at factories or warehouses on to containers or swap bodies are transported by road (or rail) to a waterway/road terminal. The ITUs are transferred and transported by barge to the destination terminal. After being transferred again on to road transport, they are delivered to the consignee.