Intermodal Transportation

27/08/2020 0 By indiafreenotes

Intermodal freight transport involves the transportation of freight in an intermodal container or vehicle, using multiple modes of transportation (e.g., rail, ship, and truck), without any handling of the freight itself when changing modes. The method reduces cargo handling, and so improves security, reduces damage and loss, and allows freight to be transported faster. Reduced costs over road trucking is the key benefit for inter-continental use. This may be offset by reduced timings for road transport over shorter distances.

Intermodal freight is products and raw materials that are transported in a container by a variety of vehicles such as container ships, semi-trailer trucks, and trains. Containers designed for intermodal freight often adhere to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) dimension guidelines, which allow the freight to remain in the container when transferred between modes of transportation rather than being moved into a container of a different size.

The Advantages of Intermodal Freight Transportation

Businesses use intermodal freight shipping both domestically and internationally because it lessens the amount of handling performed with the cargo during the trip and can reduce costs. Intermodal freight transportation is also a safe and secure method because it eliminates the handling of the freight itself during transportation, which reduces damage and loss, drivers can handle more loads in a shorter period, and additional security is provided at terminals, rail tracks, and ramps, which prevents theft.

Intermodal transportation is eco-friendly. Rail transportation is more efficient. According to Inbound Logistics, rail can move one ton of freight almost 450 miles on one gallon of fuel. This fuel efficiency creates less greenhouse gas and carbon pollution as goods are shipped from coast to coast.

The Disadvantages of Intermodal Freight Transportation

Intermodal freight transportation requires substantial outlay in infrastructure costs. Heavy-duty cranes are necessary to lift containers at different ports when changing the mode of transport. For example, when a container arrives at a seaport, it must be transferred to a flatbed, rail, or a truck. In addition, investments in rail and road access are required. Seaports need rail and road access so that railways and trucks can transport goods to and from the port.

The Intermodal Shipping Process

A typical import shipping process entails that after arriving from overseas, containerized cargo is moved from a container port to a rail yard for domestic shipment. The cargo is moved onto the rail and is transported to the next location, which could be hundreds of miles inland. Once the cargo arrives at its destination, it is placed on a truck to be driven to its final destination dictated by the original order.


Stagecoach transferred to a rail car with a simple Portainer, an example of early intermodal freight transport by the French Mail, 1844. The drawing is exhibited in Deutsches Museum Verkehrszentrum, Munich, Germany.

Intermodal transportation has its origins in 18th century England and predates the railways. Some of the earliest containers were those used for shipping coal on the Bridgewater Canal in England in the 1780s. Coal containers (called “loose boxes” or “tubs”) were soon deployed on the early canals and railways and were used for road/rail transfers (road at the time meaning horse-drawn vehicles).

Wooden coal containers were first used on the railways in the 1830s on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. In 1841, Isambard Kingdom Brunel introduced iron containers to move coal from the vale of Neath to Swansea Docks. By the outbreak of the First World War the Great Eastern Railway was using wooden containers to trans-ship passenger luggage between trains and sailings via the port of Harwich.

The early 1900s saw the first adoption of covered containers, primarily for the movement of furniture and intermodal freight between road and rail. A lack of standards limited the value of this service and this in turn drove standardisation. In the U.S. such containers, known as “lift vans”, were in use from as early as 1911.

Growth in Intermodal Freight Transportation

According to, there are approximately 25 million containers moved each year by intermodal shipping. A market research report by Technavio predicts that intermodal freight transportation will grow at a CAGR of approximately 7% from 2018 to 2022. The report cites cost advantages for shippers as the reason for its expected growth. In addition, the cost of the road as a single mode of transportation is increasing. However, multimodal transportation, where convenience is a significant factor because a single company is responsible for the movement of cargo across all modes, is expected to impede the growth of the intermodal freight transportation market in the future.

Advantages of Intermodal transportation are associated with:

a) Shippers can choose carriers to take advantage of lower rates for each transport leg

b) Gain flexibility and specialized handing of loading and unloading goods at different ports;

c) Reduce their carbon footprint by choosing environmentally friendly carriers;

d) Increased security of the products being transported; and

e) Shippers have more access to equipment and can better control capacity and selection of transit schedules.

Multimodal Shipping

Multimodal is defined as the movement of cargo from origin to destination by several modes of transport where each of these modes have a different transport carrier responsible, However under a single contract or bill of lading. Single carrier during a single journey. The same transport carrier is responsible for moving the shipment in all legs, in all modes. In simple terms, Multimodal is using various modes of transport but with one transport bill of lading.

The differentiation between multimodal and intermodal lies in the contract/ bill of lading and transport carrier responsibility / liability of the movement.

If we look back to our example above, multimodal shipping would be where one company or one contract would handle all legs of the journey. This means that the same company is going to responsible for moving your shipment in all legs, in all modes.

This can be set up in a couple of ways. You could go with a company that has all of these modes of transport available to them. Another way to set up a single contract for yourself is to use an agent. An agent would do all the negotiation on the back end for you while you only have one contract to keep track of. The agent would also be responsible for coordinating loading, unloading, and delays.

This method holds several advantages, the first being less overhead for you. Companies that handle multimodal shipping will be able to handle delays in one leg of the shipment in relation to the other legs without you needing to be involved. This method provides a one stop shop service, so every single aspect is handled by one provider, giving you that ease and peace of mind.

Advantages of Multimodal transportation are associated with:

a) Shipment tracking efficiency able to monitor with one transport carrier from door to door delivery;

b) Access to remote parts of the world with responsibility and liability of the movement with one transport carrier;

c) Efficiency in delivery time; and

d) Minimization of logistics coordination expenses of a shipper