Nowadays, when it comes to transporting freight across long distances, there is a whole host of different options from which to choose. Within the transportation industry, though, the main options are still trucks, railroads, and ships. They are essential for moving heavy goods around the world, but since they tend to work in tandem, there needs to be a high degree of cooperation between the various modes to get the freight to its destination promptly and safely. Fortunately, though, one innovation is making that collaboration a lot easier: intermodal transport.
How does intermodal transport work? Primarily, it uses storage containers which are made to a set of standardized measurements. These storage containers are rectangular, and since they are all constructed using the same dimensions, it’s simple for all modes of transport to accommodate them. Not only can they be securely fitted to trailers made especially for that purpose, but it’s also easy to calculate how much space will be needed for freight when the storage containers are all a uniform size.
The idea of using storage containers to transport freight goes back even before railways, but the concept of intermodal transport came into its own in the 1950s. It was then that the transportation industry adopted the idea of standardized storage containers, based on specifications put together by the U.S. Department of Defense. This standardization led to a considerable increase in intermodal transport from the 1960s onwards, and it has since become the backbone of the entire industry.
Railways and ships are the two methods used for transporting freight over long distances, on land and sea respectively. However, the cargo needs to be transferred from one to the other for the journey to continue. That’s where trucks enter the equation. Many specialized trucking companies sole job is hauling storage containers between docks and rail terminals.
Of course, every freight job is different, but the average intermodal transport scenario will usually begin with a truck arriving at a dock, where it will pick up its load. Once the shipping container has been loaded, the truck travels to a rail terminal, and the entire container is lifted onto the train. At the other end of the line, it can be put back onto another truck and delivered to the end customer. In this way, the whole process is more efficient, since there’s no need to unload and reload the freight at each step – instead, it can be kept in the same storage container until it reaches its destination.