Intermodal transport refers to a transport chain in which two or more modes of transport are used, whereby the transported goods themselves are not transhipped, but only the loading unit changes the mode of transport. The loading units used in intermodal transport are in particular containers or swap bodies. But also piggyback transport, in which, for example, the truck including the load is transported further by rail, is included.
Standardised loading units in intermodal transport
The standardization of containers as globally used loading units has shifted the focus to the entire intermodal transport chain and the individual transport mode has receded into the background. Most consignors and consignees themselves do not have the necessary infrastructure, such as a port facility or direct connection to the rail network, and are therefore dependent on feeder services. A truck, for example, takes a container to a transhipment terminal, where the container is then loaded onto an inland waterway vessel which calls at the sea port, where the container is then loaded onto a container freighter. At the port of destination, the container is then loaded onto the railroad and delivered to the recipient and unloaded there.
Multimodal and combined transport
Multimodal transport refers to a transport chain in which goods are transported using two or more modes of transport. In this case, however, the goods themselves can also be handled separately from the loading unit when changing modes. Combined transport is a sub-form of intermodal transport. In combined transport, two or more modes of transport are also used with a change of loading unit within the transport chain. However, the main leg here is limited to rail transport and ship/sea freight transport. The pre- and post-carriage takes place on the road and should be kept as short as possible.
Advantages and disadvantages of intermodal transport modes
Intermodal transport, especially combined transport with its short distances by road in lorries, is now also used as a means of reducing environmental pollution and relieving congestion on roads and motorways. Ideally, each means of transport should be used according to its advantages and in order to solve the transport problem in the best possible way. Ships transport large quantities with a favourable energy consumption, but have a poor Co2 balance. Trucks are very flexible, but are needed in large quantities due to their low loading capacity. They are therefore a particular burden on road traffic and are increasingly involved in more serious accidents. The railways transport large quantities in a comparatively energy-saving manner, but are tied to the less dense rail network. Airplanes score points for speed over long distances, but are limited in volume and air freight is subject to time-consuming checks.