Intermodal transport: efficient transport means management

Globalisation has led to an increasing and more complex global demand for goods and services. The need for more efficient, economic and sustainable logistics flows is leading to a major boom in intermodal transport, an option that more and more companies are opting for to transport their goods around the world.

What is intermodal transport and what does it consist of?

Intermodal transport is the transport of goods in a single unit or vehicle using two or more means of transport to move the load from its origin to its destination where it is not handled when moved from one vehicle to another.

In this type of transport, goods are grouped into sealed cargo transport units or CTUs (containers, mobile boxes or semi-trailers) to reduce cargo handling, therefore preventing any loss, breakage or theft. These units also facilitate their transfer or transhipment to the various means of transport (by road, rail, by sea, etc.) used to reach their final destination.

Intermodality basically entails greater integration and complementarity between different modes of transport, enabling the more efficient use of the goods shipping system from one point to another. And its purpose? To ensure a faster and more efficient transshipment operations of materials and goods.

Benefits of intermodal transport

  • Lower costs. An exporter who does not require an entire container can resort to intermodal transport thanks to how it allows the combination of full-load and groupage regimes.
  • Agile logistics operations. Using loading units reduces the handling of goods, involves less labour, simplifies the transfer from one means to another, and reduces loading and unloading times.
  • Load monitoring and risk reduction. As the goods are not separated, they can be very easily located even when changing from one vehicle to another. And because the cargo units are sealed, the cabin also is not opened until it reaches its destination, making accidents such as breakage, loss or theft very rare.
  • Simpler formal procedures. The sealing of the CTUs speeds up customs procedures, controls and inspections, saving on waiting and travel time, all of which optimises delivery times.
  • Simplicity during inspections. The cargo usually undergoes fewer inspections due to being transported contained and sealed.
  • Environmental benefits. Savings on packaging and packing of goods, reduced energy consumption per cargo unit and minimised CO2 emissions of the means/vehicles used, resulting in a smaller transport carbon footprint and a more sustainable model.

Its benefits can also be simply summed up by saying that intermodal transport guarantees the most efficient combination of all types of transport, taking full advantage of each one:

  • The flexibility of road transport and its door-to-door capability.
  • Punctuality, speed over long distances and the sustainability of rail transport.
  • Low prices and the ability to transport large volumes of maritime transport.

Differences between intermodal transport and multimodal transport

The terms intermodal transport and multimodal transport are often confused and used indiscriminately. However, they are not quite synonymous.
The difference lies in the fact that multimodal transport transports various types of cargo such as pallets and containers issuing a single document (the FIATA Bill of Landing, FBL) for the entire operation.

Intermodal transport, however, uses CTUs, mainly containers, but also semi-trailers or mobile boxes, which move from one mode of transport to another without being opened up. A transport document is also issued for each means of transport (truck, boat, etc.) involved in the logistics operation. However, the documentation is standardised for all of them.
One is not necessarily better than the other, where everything depends on the needs of each company and the features of its goods. A logistics operator can help assess the best option in each case. However, the benefits of intermodal transport, particularly in maintaining the integrity of the cargo, means that it is more widely used in the field of international transport.

Development of intermodal transport

Like we mentioned above, intermodal transport is in great health, so the question would be why now? There are several factors that have been aligned to make international transport increasingly converge toward intermodal transport.

  • More suitable infrastructures: The upgrading of transport infrastructures is resulting in better connected ports with railway routes, making for a more agile combination of transport. Progress is also being made in the harmonisation and standardisation of administrative and legal procedures for the transport of goods.
  • Road transport planning: This mode of transport is being hampered by increased demand that does not match up with the available professionals due to a shortage of drivers and capacity issues. Rising fuel prices are ending up taking weight off this mode of transport, at least for long journeys.
  • Increased efficiency: More modern, information- and technology-based logistics procedures enable lower rates, better time calculations, and lower handling costs. This results in greater added value from the combined transport modes.
  • New business approaches: The search for greater competitiveness, as well as the growth of values such as sustainability or a reduction in accidents.

When to choose an intermodal transport service

Intermodal transport is the ideal way to transport goods internationally and with improvements taking place with port connections and other international transport nodes, it is becoming increasingly important. For this reason, it will suit many companies to contract an intermodal transport service whenever:

  • They require a complex operation to transport a load door to door.
  • They want to transport goods over long distances, but also to minimise the risk of any incidents such as loss, leakages, being held up at customs, etc.
  • They want to cut down on costs on international transport.
  • They want to get goods delivered within a certain timeframe using international transport while reducing any logistical complications.
  • Sustainability is an important part of the company’s values.

In either case, an intermodal transport service is the ideal choice. But best of all, the logistics agent will take care of the entire operation, obtaining the most effective combination of transport modes according to your deadlines and budget.

At Bilogistik we are experts in intermodal transport, a service we provide so that you do not have to worry about a thing and your cargo arrives securely at your destination just at the time you wish.

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