Freight transport is a crucial sector for the development of the economy and society, but it also produces negative impacts on the environment and the human health that must be considered. Intermodal freight transport represents an opportunity to achieve a transport of goods with enhanced environmental and competitive characteristics. Hence, intermodal freight transport consists in the transport of goods by at least two modes of transport, in the same loading unit (e.g. container), without handling the goods themselves when changing modes in an intermodal terminal. Intermodal freight transport leads to the shifting of road freight transport in long distances to others modes of transport with improved environmental performance such as rail freight transport and inland waterways transport. This thesis is concerned with a study of the environmental impacts of rail freight intermodality using a life cycle approach. The purpose of this research is to analyse the environmental impacts of the different inland freight transport modes in Belgium (focusing on rail freight transport), and their use in intermodal freight transport routes in Belgium and Europe. In this framework, the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology constitutes an effective tool to assess the environmental impact of the inland freight transport modes. The system perspective of the LCA methodology implies the need to analyse not only the direct processes related to the transport activity such as energy consumption and exhaust emissions, but also the processes connected with the electricity and fuel production, vehicles (e.g. locomotives and wagons, barges and lorries) and infrastructure (e.g. railway, inland waterways and road). This thesis studies the inland freight transport in Belgium from the period 2006 to 2012. It has been carried out the LCA of rail freight transport (distinguishing between electric and diesel traction), inland waterways transport and road freight transport independently. A comparison between the environmental impacts of these inland freight transport modes has been performed as well. Within rail freight transport, the environmental impacts of electric trains using the electricity supply mix of different European countries have been compared. Moreover, a detailed study of the life cycle phases of construction, maintenance and disposal of railway infrastructure has been conducted. Furthermore, the influence of load factor and emission engine technology in the environmental performance of road transport have been studied. In addition, a study of the environmental impacts of consolidated intermodal freight transport routes in Belgium and Europe have been carried out. The aim of this analysis is the comparison of the environmental impacts of these intermodal routes depending on the transport mode chosen for the major part of the intermodal route. Finally, this thesis studies the environmental impact of the modal splits of inland freight transport in Belgium for several scenarios such as the increase of rail freight transport as a result of the possible development of the intermodal rail freight transport or the optimization of the operational costs. It has been analysed how the change of the modal split and the improvement of the technology used by the different transport modes affects the environmental impacts of inland freight transport in Belgium.
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