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Completed project

Optimising Freight Transport

Reducing congestion by using more environmentally friendly and less costly ways to transport freight.

Project summary

The Challenge

Rising faster than in any other sector, road transport accounts for >10% of global emissions, as well as causing high levels of local air pollution.

The Approach

Working collaboratively with industry and academic partners to evaluate freight movements and recommend lower carbon options, particularly sea.

The Outcome

Development of “OFT” platform that has the potential to play a role in facilitating optimisation and collaboration in international freight routes.

Lead academics

Funded by

The Challenge

Data from DfT shows that, the majority and ferry and container freight is shipped via ports in the south of England. This implies that freight destined for businesses in the north take the longer and more inefficient north-south land route incurring more cost and delays, and creating more emissions.



of all England’s manufacturing and warehousing activity occurs north of the midlands.

The business opportunity addressed by this project was to make northern businesses more effective and competitive by enabling them to move freight by less costly and more environmentally friendly routes, generating a net reduction in congestion throughout the UK. It is believed that this route is a multi-modal land/rail/sea connection through the northern Ports and across the M62 east-west corridor, connecting the Humber and Liverpool ports. However, to make this happen required a step-change and the creation of new services that enabled seamless multimodal end-to-end connectivity with the required capacity and frequency.

The Approach

The University of Hull Logistics Institute was instrumental in putting together a powerful, cross-industry consortium representing some of the major organisations that will enable the corridor to be successful. This included freight owners (Nestle, Kraft-Heinz), port operators (ABP), service providers (P&O Ferries, DB Cargo, GB Railfreight), rail and shipping consultants (Oxford Rail, PRB Associates), technology partners (Zipabout) and academic partners (Universities of Hull and Lancaster). The project also engaged extensively with other stakeholders, including Transport for the North (TfN), Northern Powerhouse, local enterprise organisations (LEPs), local councils, hauliers, inland waterway operators, cargo owners, etc.

“The University of Hull is at the forefront of accelerating a net zero future. The collaborative transport modelling and optimisation platform developed by the University’s Logistics Institute is based on academic insight and has played a key role in the LHOFT project, enriching the analysis that is used to visualise, interpret and compare freight movement options. This allows objective evaluation of the freight movement options. For example, the Wigan rail route opens up new opportunities for goods owners and service providers to collaborate to develop new, lower carbon transport routes.”
Amar Ramudhin

Amar Ramudhin

Logistics Institute Director

The LHOFT project ran from November 2017 to January 2021 and was funded by InnovateUK to the value of £1.5million.

A fundamental departure point for the project is that shorter land-based (road) journeys and longer sea bound journeys is beneficial from an environmental, cost and congestion perspective. Therefore it is preferable for northern based suppliers and consumers of goods to import and export through northern ports which are closer to them, even though this may result in longer sea journeys. Also, the use of rail and inland waterways could further reduce congestion and environmental impact resulting from road transport. However, the traditional and established freight routes involve moving goods on the North-South corridors on road to, and from, the larger ports in the south. To change this required a concerted and coordinated effort by all the stakeholders, which this project facilitated.

Introduction to the OFT platform

LHOFT aims were to unlock the full potential of the ports and logistics services along this corridor to better move freight originating from or destined for the north of England by:

  1. Identifying the right type of required logistics services, for example, freight aggregation and sharing services, land/sea connectivity and capacity etc., for a seamless east-west integrated multi-modal freight transportation that move goods away from lengthy land travels through the congested parts of the south of the UK thereby relieving bottlenecks and contributing to the betterment of the environment,

  2. Providing the motivation and incentives for service providers to collaboratively develop and deploy the services if they are not already present through detailed market analysis and profit sharing models;

  3. Providing and testing a basic framework for a cloud based, end-to-end B2B multimodal freight optimisation system (“OFT”) that is built on the database of logistics services catalogued during this project and embeds land, rail, sea connectivity and travel times, key logistics processes and events and the ability to simulate discrete events and uncertainties. The system will be accessible to end-users through a web portal.

The Impact

The project resulted in the development of the first of a kind “OFT” platform that has the potential to play a unique role in facilitating optimisation and collaboration in international freight routes. It contains a unique repository of logistics services (including routes, times, emissions and indicative costs), freight infrastructure (roads, railways, ports, etc) and forecasted demand for logistics routes and services. It has the ability to recommend optimised freight transport routes on a tactical level, identify collaboration opportunities between shippers, and identify and analyse demand for additional logistics services or infrastructure to be developed.

We used this platform to analyse scenarios specifically relating to the Liverpool-Humber corridor, but the platform was developed as a universal model that can be applied to other regions and routes. The intention is for the logistics service and infrastructure data in the database to be geographically expanded over time.

We envisage that OFT will be commercialised to be used internationally by shippers, logistics providers and infrastructure stakeholders to gain deeper understanding of optimised freight movement routes and the optimal structuring and sizing of logistics services and infrastructure. In the short term we will encourage more large, medium and small shippers to enter their freight movement forecasts in OFT, analyse optimal routing and find collaboration opportunities.