What is intermodal transport and what are the advantages of this type of service?
What is intermodal transport and what are the advantages of this type of service?
14 April 2023 - by: Dorina Lisnic

What is intermodal transport and what are the advantages of this type of service?

Although road transport is the most common and convenient method for freight transport, there are equally effective alternatives to consider. Among these, intermodal transport is becoming an increasingly popular solution, particularly for long distances. So, what exactly is it, and when is it advisable to choose this option? Let's find out.

A definition of intermodal transport
Intermodal transport is a method of transport that uses standard loading units such as containers, swap bodies, and semi-trailers. These loading units can be easily transferred from one mode of transport to another, such as ships, trucks, and trains, without the need to sort the contents inside. This transport system is considered an integrated, flexible, and efficient solution that allows different modes of transport to be used complementarily, thus increasing the competitiveness of transport companies that offer it.

What are the advantages of intermodal transport?
Combined transport has more advantages compared to solely road transport. Here are some of them: 

  1. Reduction of road traffic: intermodal transport can help reduce congestion of vehicle flow on roads, improving safety and reducing the environmental impact of shipments. 

  1. Security: thanks to the use of standardized containers, goods are protected during transport, and there are fewer risks of damage or loss. 

  1. Flexibility: combined transport allows for adaptation to the specific needs of each shipment, offering different transport options based on the characteristics of the goods and the needs of the customer. 

  1. Increased competitiveness: intermodal transport improves the competitiveness of companies by offering greater efficiency and reducing transport costs. 

  1. Sustainability: through the combination of different modes of transport, intermodal transport exploits the advantages of each one while reducing their disadvantages and contributing to mitigating the environmental impact. 

What are the limitations?
As with any transport solution, intermodality has some limitations that can pose challenges for logistics companies and their customers. Firstly, this service requires good infrastructure for the different modes of transport used. Many of today's railway lines were built decades ago and have not been adequately maintained or updated, limiting transport capacity and increasing travel times. In addition, railway systems often differ depending on the country, making it difficult to transport goods across international borders.
Another critical issue can be the coordination between the various operators involved, as in the absence of adequate collaboration agreements, problems of delays, planning, and loading or unloading operations could arise.
Finally, intermodal transport may not be suitable for all types of goods, such as fragile or dangerous ones, but more suitable for those that require the transport of significant volumes over medium-long distances.

Why is intermodal transport considered sustainable?
This service involves the use of different modes of transport, such as ships, trains or trucks, to complete a single freight transport. Through the combination of these means, each one is used for the most suitable segment for its purpose; for instance, a load can be transported via ship to cross an ocean, then on a train to cross a continent and finally on a truck to reach the final destination.
When the different modes of transport are used in combination, a more efficient use of energy can be achieved, especially through the use of low-impact means of transport, such as electric trains or reduced-emission ships, resulting in a reduction of overall emissions along the entire transport chain.
Finally, intermodal transport encourages planning and optimization of transport chains, in order to make the best use of available resources and reduce waste. The diversification of means of transport can also increase the resilience of the transport system as a whole, making it less vulnerable to disruptions or problems in a single mode.

In summary, rail transport of goods is considered sustainable because it contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improves energy efficiency, reduces traffic congestion, supports the local economy, and can be safer than other means of transport. 

FERCAM Logistics & Transport, as a multi-specialized company, studies and recommends the most suitable intermodal transport formula for its customers. Thanks to the availability of Company Train, daily departures by rail to and from northern Europe are ensured, even during weekends and holidays.