What is the Difference between Intermodal and Multimodal Transport

Transport or shipment involves the transport of cargo via different modes either by road, by rail, by air, or blend of all. Transportation or shipment can occur within a local area, between cities, across countries, or even internationally.

Stages of shipment or transportation:

  • Packaging.
  • Loading.
  • Transportation itself.
  • Unloading.
  • Final delivery.

Mode of transportation:

Different modes of transportation, such as road, rail, ocean, air, intermodal, and multi-modal can be utilized based on the specific requirements of the shipment. For example, road freight services in the USA are used for the transport of cargo within shorter distances, and rail freight services in the USA are used for the transport of heavy cargo within large distances.

Intermodal and multimodal transport:

Intermodal and multimodal transport are two terms often used interchangeably in the field of transportation and logistics. While they have similarities in involving the use of multiple modes of transport, there are key differences between the two concepts:

1. Intermodal transport:

Intermodal transport refers to the movement of goods using multiple modes of transportation, such as road, rail, water, or air. It involves the use of standardized containers or trailers that can be easily transferred from one mode to another without the need to handle the goods themselves. The main characteristic of intermodal transport is the physical transfer of the entire container or trailer from one mode to another, typically at intermodal terminals or facilities. (Slack, B. (2017).

Advantages of intermodal transport:

  • Cost Efficiency: Intermodal transportation allows for cost savings by leveraging the most cost-effective modes of transport for different journeys. For example, utilizing rail or water transport from China to USA is considered, as cheapest shipping from China to USA, as compared to only road shipment.
  • Flexibility and Accessibility: Intermodal transportation provides flexibility in accessing various locations, including areas with limited road infrastructure. It enables the use of different modes of transport based on specific geographical considerations, allowing for efficient door-to-door delivery.
  • Environmental Impact: Intermodal transportation helps reduce road congestion by shifting a portion of cargo from trucks to rail or water transport. This reduction in road traffic contributes to environmental sustainability.
  • Enhanced Cargo Security: The use of standardized containers in intermodal transportation enhances cargo security. Once the cargo is loaded into the container it remains sealed until it reaches the final destination, minimizing the risk of theft

Challenges faced by intermodal:

  • Infrastructure Limitations: Intermodal transportation relies on well-developed infrastructure, so inadequate infrastructure can result in delays, inefficiencies, and limited accessibility to certain locations.
  • Coordination and Synchronization: Intermodal transportation involves the smooth coordination of multiple modes, carriers, and schedules, which can be challenging, especially when dealing with operations.
  • Equipment Compatibility: Ensuring the availability of suitable equipment across the transportation chain can be a challenge, particularly in cases where specialized or oversized cargo is involved.
  • Documentation Compliance: Intermodal transportation involves various documentation requirements, customs procedures, and regulations for each mode of transport, and ensuring all these is a big challenge.
  • Intermodal Terminal Operations: Efficient operations at intermodal terminals are important for the smooth transfer of cargo. Challenges such as congestion, inefficient handling processes, and limited terminal capacity can lead to delays and increased costs.

Intermodal freight forwarding: Intermodal freight forwarding primarily focuses on the coordination and management of shipments, using different modes of transportation i.e road, train, ocean, etc.

2. Multimodal Transport:

Under multimodal transport, the transport operator takes care of the coordination, documentation, and liability for the entire journey, even though multiple modes of transport are involved. The shipper or cargo owner has a single point of contact and contractual relationship with the transport operator, simplifying the logistics and administrative aspects of transportation. Unlike intermodal transport, multimodal transport does not necessarily require the physical transfer of containers or trailers between modes.

Advantages of multimodal transport:

  • Simplified Logistics: Multimodal transportation offers a single point of contact and responsibility for the entire transportation process.
  • Efficient Coordination: With multimodal transportation, the transport operator coordinates the transfer of goods between different modes, ensuring good connections and reducing delays. This eliminates the need for the cargo owner to handle the logistics of arranging separate transport providers for each mode.
  • Improved Visibility and Control: Multimodal transport operators provide better visibility and control over the transportation process, offering real-time tracking and updates on the status of the shipment.
  • Customs Procedures: Multimodal transport operators handle the documentation and customs procedures for the entire transportation journey. This simplifies the tasks for the cargo owner and reduces paperwork.
  • Reducing risk: In multimodal transportation, the transport operator is responsible for the security of cargo throughout the entire journey. This reduces the risk from the side of the cargo owner, as any potential damages or losses during transportation.

Challenges faced by Multimodal transport:

  • Mode Selection: Selecting the most suitable modes of transport and contracting with reliable transport providers can be challenging. Evaluating and coordinating the capabilities, and pricing of different carriers across various modes requires careful analysis.
  • Communication and Information Sharing: Effective communication and information sharing are essential for smooth operations. Challenges can arise from the use of different communication systems, language barriers, and information gaps, leading to miscommunication and delays.
  • Liability and Risk Management: Multimodal transportation involves multiple carriers and modes, which can complicate liability and risk management. Determining responsibility in case of loss, damages, or delays can be challenging.
  • Complexity in Tracking and Visibility: Ensuring real-time tracking, accurate information, and visibility across different modes can be challenging.

Multimodal freight forwarding: Multimodal freight forwarding offers a more comprehensive solution, taking care of logistics, liability, and overall transportation management.

E-commerce and multimodal transport:

E-commerce relies on multimodal transport to efficiently and cost-effectively deliver goods globally, utilizing multiple modes of transportation. Multimodal transport facilitates seamless logistics, scalability, and timely delivery, supporting the growth and success of e-commerce operations. (Thesis writing help,2021).


Concluding, intermodal transport refers to the coordinated use of multiple modes of transport within a single shipment. While multimodal transport involves the integration of different modes of transport into a comprehensive logistics solution.


  • Slack, B. (2017).Available at < >
  • 2021. (Top 10 E-commerce platforms in Pakistan). Available at < >

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