Intermodal Transport


History and competition have tended to produce segmented and non- integrated transportation systems . Each form of transport, particularly the operators, have tried to exploit their own advantages in terms of cost, service, reliability and safety. Operators try to retain business and increase revenue by maximizing line traffic under their control.

What is intermodal transport?

The intermodal transport is the movement of the unit load by a combination of means . This transfer between transport methods occurs without the need for opening, minimizing cargo handling .

  • Characteristics of intermodal transport
  • History of intermodal transport
  • Types
  • Advantages of intermodal transport
  • Disadvantages
  • Importance
  • Examples

Characteristics of intermodal transport

Among the main characteristics of intermodal transport we can mention the following:

  • Intermodal transport guarantees companies a lower cost than other possibilities.
  • It generates a greater number of security levels for companies.
  • General more sustainability .
  • The loads are not constantly manipulated by third parties.
  • There is an improvement in the infrastructure through the regulatory update that is reflected in the logistics platforms, in the combination of means of transport and in a greater freedom of administration that is given as a result of the legal requirements.
  • There is a rethinking of logistics strategies in companies.
  • There is greater road safety .
  • Costs and environmental impacts are reduced .
  • The prices are low and predictable.
  • There is flexibility in loading and unloading of different goods.
  • There is a reduction in handling costs .
  • Provides reliability , capacity and sustainability .

History of intermodal transport

Intermodal transport existed long before the Second World War . Between the 1870s and 1950s, an excellent railway network was built and extensive use was made of the waterways . Until the 1960s, rail and water transport had a high percentage of the total, at that time the purest intermodal transport was practiced . This happened because there were not enough roads to transport the goods or products. But as happened in many parts of the world, there was a great advance in road transport from the 1950s and little by little it was absorbing the vast majority of traffic. At present it is considered that more than90% of the transport is done by truck .

In the 1970s and 1980s, intermodal transport could not be carried out efficiently almost anywhere in the world, because there were many operational problems . In the past, there was a lot of manipulation , high costs and risks of breakdowns . Warehousing almost always had to be done, but the total costs of road transport, including infrastructure, were very high. This happened in many countries of the world and although it seems obvious, it can be said that it went almost unnoticed, until about the middle of the 50s, an American truck driver, Malcom McLean , started with the idea of intermodal transport .


  • Combined transport : it is in which there is a physical superposition of the means of transport. It allows the transport of goods with a fractional responsibility regime . We can mention within this type of intermodal the following examples:
    • Ferroutage : they are trucks that go on rail cars.
    • Transroulage : trucks on the ships and then the vehicles are transferred by road.
    • UFR systems : a semi-trailer is transported inside a railway car.
  • Segmented transport : it is in which transport documents and modes of transport that need to move the goods between a point of origin and their destination are used . Some contracts made in this type of transport are verbal.
  • Multimodal transport : it occurs by means of two different means of transport from a place where the multimodal transport operator takes the goods until delivery . Themultimodal transport operator is in charge of drawing up a contract and assumes responsibility as the carrier .

Advantages of intermodal transport

Among the advantages we can mention the following:

  • There is a reduction in transport times since they are faster.
  • The loading and unloading are carried out more quickly.
  • There is no need to store products in intermediate areas .
  • It provides new business opportunities for non-traditional exporters.
  • Lower risk of theft .
  • Better tracking of goods.


  • There is the possibility that the general reliability is diminished, mainly in the type of rail transport since they are more susceptible to delays due to bad weather or lack of adequate equipment.
  • There is a possibility of damaging the loads they must be in constant motion as they pass from one medium to another.
  • The costs of infrastructure are high compared to others. The use of the containers requires that the transporters handle large cranes and a human team to be able to handle the loads.


Intermodal transport is important mainly for trade as it combines a series of ways to carry loads more efficiently, making goods go from one place to another either by sea, land or air. Thanks to the enormous amount of new technology , the trade benefits by speeding up and increasing the transport of its loads.


Some examples of companies that work with this type of transport are:

  • Fixemer : they combine traffic with intermodal transport using various means of transport.
  • Vlex : Spanish company that works with intermodal transport.
  • Agility : company that has had great success in its transport combined with adequate integrated logistics.

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