Since its inception into mainstream logistical discourse, there have been several attempts to define and conceptualize the term intermodal transport. As a result, it has been variously used to refer to a gamut of activities involving the transportation of people or cargo (Dewitt & Clinger, 2000). In this paper, the focus will be on intermodal transport in the context of cargo freight rather than passengers.
For this purpose, Intermodal transportation is loosely defined as a system where two or more modes of transport are consequently employed in the process of transmitting cargo from one terminus to another (Dewitt & Clinger, 2000). These modes could include road, rail, water, and even air depending on the nature of the goods in transmission. Intermodalism in the movement of goods is based on a number of factors such as, the infrastructure, the products, data shared, and any other logistical element that applies to a bill of single freight.
Chief among the factors driving intermodal transport today is the container, which facilitates smooth and seamless transfer of goods from one mode to the next. Containerization has been instrumental in facilitating intermodal transportation as it ensures easy “transmodal” cargo handling. Admittedly, intermodal transport can exist in the absence of containers, but the process would be cumbersome and very expensive (Panayides, 2002). The container is a massive but a standard sized vessel or box in which freight is packed for shipment across the specially configured vehicles (Egyedi, 2000).
Containers are designed in such a way that they can easily be handled using conventional equipment, which is used across the various modes and ports. Since they are in containers, goods do not require to be unpacked as the boxes are designed for flexibility in movement and can fit in most haulage vehicles (Naim, Potter, Mason & Bateman, 2006). Case in point, assuming that one wants to ship car parts from the US to the UK, they can apply intermodal transport to ensure the goods are safely and efficiently moved.
A truck can carry the container to the train station where the same kind of crane that was used to load it in the truck will be used to put it on the train. The train will then haul it to the docks were similar equipment would load it on the ship for the sea journey, on arrival the same process will be repeated again until the container arrives at its destination. The containerization of goods ensures that they will not be moved around or unpacked en-route, and, as a result, it is both efficient and safe.
The use of universal containers engenders a complementarity among the various modes and allows for the smooth flow of goods as well as standardized loads (Panayides, 2002). The amount of time spent unloading goods from one mode to another is significantly reduced, not to mention the labor and risk of damage. Intermodal transport and containerization have been especially critical in the face of globalization. In fact, were it not for containerization, the import and export business would be much slower and less efficient than it is today.
Through intermodal transport, tens of challenges such as warehousing and security of freight are addressed using a simple and cost-effective technique. Ultimately, the term intermodal stands for more than just a unification of various means of transport. It personifies a combination of factors and standards that have, over the years, been streamlined and adjusted to ensure goods are conveyed as safely, cheaply, and flexibly as possible.
Dewitt, W., & Clinger, J. (2000). Intermodal freight transportation. Transportation in the New Millennium.
Egyedi, T. M. (2000). The standardized container: gateway technologies in cargo transport. Homo Oeconomicus, 17, 231-262.
Naim, M. M., Potter, A. T., Mason, R. J., & Bateman, N. (2006). The role of transport flexibility in logistics provision. The International Journal of Logistics Management, 17 (3), 297-311.
Panayides, P. M. (2002). Economic organization of intermodal transport. Transport Reviews, 22 (4), 401-414.