The steady increase in container volume from inland China to coastal ports could lead to faster development of intermodal transport involving double-stack trains and trucking in the next 10 years, a shipping executive says. Masahito Hidaka, managing director of Mitsui OSK Lines (Asia) and Mitsui OSK Lines (Hong Kong), said just as the United States had developed from east to west, so too would the mainland. Mr Hidaka, who worked in San Francisco and New York between 1988 and 1994, said so-called intermodal operation - where one mode of transport is linked to another such as sea-to-road and sea-to-rail - had developed in the US in the 1980s. He said there were similarities between the US and the mainland as both had a strong agricultural base. Mitsui, a member of the New World Alliance, calls at Qingdao once a week on a North American route. The carrier, as part of the alliance, also calls at Shanghai, providing a weekly service to Europe and North America, and provides a similar service each week from Yantian. Container throughput volumes at the three mainland ports were rising gradually, Mr Hidaka said. Mitsui, which has been calling in Shanghai since 1994, also individually provides a weekly service from Shanghai to West Africa. Mr Hidaka said one of Mitsui's new projects was a logistics joint venture in Shanghai with Sinotrans Beijing called Long Fei International Logistics. The company, which started late last year, was developing short intermodal operations covering a distance of about 500 kilometres. Mitsui was using trucks to move cargo within a radius of 300 km and trains for greater distances as it was more economical, Mr Hidaka said. He said the joint venture was a first step and could lead to future investment in trucks or warehouses. In the US, Mitsui has specific contracts with railways which have fixed schedules for containers. In the mainland, Orient Overseas Container Line and Cosco had been carrying out trials using the railway to transport containers. Mr Hidaka said the mainland's railway system was economical and, if developed, eventually could become more competitive than road transport. He said it was much faster to implement plans in the mainland, where land was state-owned, than in Japan, where it was privately held. Intermodal transport development would open up many more ports in the mainland, he added. Mr Hidaka said as Mitsui's Hong Kong-South China business had been growing since 1992, the company had decided to keep its regional office in the SAR. Last year, Mitsui handled a total 400,000 teu (20 ft equivalent units), including exports and imports in Hong Kong. The carrier's export volume from Hong Kong was its biggest in Asia. Mitsui expected 5 per cent growth in its overall business in Asia this year.