Project Title

Multimodal Freight Distribution to Support Increased Port Operations

Collaborating Universities

Old Dominion University
1 Old Dominion University
Norfolk, VA 23529

University of Virginia
351 McCormick Dr.
P.O. Box 400742
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4742

Virginia Tech
1424 S Main St.
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Principal Investigator(s)

Mecit Cetin (ODU) - Email:
Manwo Ng (ODU) - Email:
Wayne Talley (ODU) - Email:
Brian Park (UVA) - Email:
Hesham Rakha (VT) - Email:

Funding Source(s) and Amounts Provided (by each agency or organization)

US DOT: $146,500 (Federal)
ODU: $85,000 (Match)
VT: $26,500 (Match)

Total Project Costs

$146,500 Federal/$111,500 Match

Agency ID or Contract Number


Start Date


Completion Date



It is projected that more containers will pass through the major ports of the mid-Atlantic region with the completion of the Panama Canal expansion, and as shippers and carriers find it more efficient to move cargo on larger container vessels.  As a result, not only is it expected that a larger number of containers will be unloaded/loaded every time a New-Panamax vessel docks at a port, it is also widely anticipated that these larger ships will concentrate among a small of number ports, particularly those that have deeper channel depths, such as the Port of Virginia. It is going to be vital to the regional economies and to the surrounding areas to be prepared to handle the anticipated increase in container traffic with energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly technologies and transport options. In particular, efficiency in handling high-volume of containers at the ports and in transporting containers beyond the ports is critical. This study will bring together researchers from multiple universities to investigate strategies to optimize container handling inside the terminals, to more heavily utilize inland waterways and rail systems, and to optimize logistics to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions while maintaining mobility needs.

In particular, the team from ODU will investigate port operations strategies where both rail and truck traffic in and out of the port is considered. Interactions between these transport modes, and staging and handling of containers within the port will be investigated. Motivated by the rail connectivity available at the Port of Virginia, ODU will lead the research effort that will explore the use of rail to more efficiently move cargo out of the port. The team will explore optimization and simulation methods to study various complex interactions and factors influencing the flow of containers over multiple modes. These methods will help identify more cost and energy efficient strategies to handle large volume of container traffic inside the terminals. New models will be developed to understand the feasibility and potential benefits of such strategies.

The team from VT will support research in the area of optimization of freight movement within the context of fuel consumption and emission modeling which requires the development of fuel consumption and emission models for the various types of freight modes. Virginia Tech’s team will focus on developing the fuel consumption and emission models for various ground transportation modes including trucks and trains. The focus will be on developing models that can be easily calibrated using publically available data. In addition, the VT team will consider developing smart systems to reduce the energy consumption of freight transport (e.g. eco-cruise control systems, eco-adaptive cruise control systems, etc.).

While optimizations for network-wide freight logistics have been focused on either flow maximization or total system travel time minimization, little research has focused on the greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumptions in the context of multimodal freight logistics. The team from UVA will work on formulating and developing an optimization approach for multimodal freight networks to minimize greenhouse gas emissions or fuel consumption.


Potential implementation of project outcomes

  • During this research, the team members will work closely with the Port of Virginia, rail lines (e.g. Norfolk Southern), and the private industry. The developed tools, techniques, and solutions will be shared with them for potential implementation.
  • Various components and algorithms for eco-cruise control systems, eco-adaptive cruise control systems, and eco-routing systems will be developed for more energy-efficient transportation of freight.


Expected benefits and impacts

  •  A new suite of modeling and simulation tools and methodologies is envisioned to result from this research that can be used throughout the nation to combat congestion at the ports in a post panama canal expansion era.
  • Development of fuel consumption and emission models for various ground transportation modes including trucks and trains.Impacts of various modes of transporting containers on greenhouse gas emissions.

Web Links to Reports and to the Project website