The Differences Between Combined Freight Modes

freight modes

For some products and commodities, a single mode of transportation is just not enough. Luckily, there are a couple of freight modes for shippers to utilize.

When this is the case, multimodal and intermodal transport both offer a safe, efficient way to move products. They essentially work the same way with just a couple of significant differences in how they achieve the same end result.

In this blog post, we will take a look at the main differences between these two freight modes and explain how you should decide which one would suit your needs best.


What is Multimodal?

Multimodal transport (or combined transport) is defined as the transportation of goods using more than one mode of transportation. However, it all goes under the terms of a single contract. 

With multimodal transport contracts, carriers are liable for every single shipment. This is regardless of whether they are being shipped across the sea, road, rail, or air - or a combination of any of these.

In most cases, multimodal carriers - or multimodal transport operators (MTO) - utilize sub-contracted carriers. 

It all looks a bit like this:

Your shipment gets packaged and loaded onto a truck or other vehicle. Along the journey to its destination, your goods may be transferred to and from one carrier to the next, passing through numerous hands along the way until it is put on the final carrier and delivered to your customer.


What is Intermodal?

Unlike multimodal transport, which involves shipping several different shipments being shipped through different modes of transportation, intermodal shipping involves the packing of products or commodities into large intermodal containers. These containers are then placed onto specific vehicles. When the goods need to be transferred from one mode of transportation to another, the entire container is what gets transferred.

The main difference between these two freight modes is that with intermodal, the products remain inside the containers for the duration of the transport.

As this single intermodal container can be offloaded from a ship, truck, train, or plane, this type of transport requires less cargo handling. Therefore, there is a lower risk of loss and damage.

Lastly, this mode of transport provides improved security, allows freight to move faster and more efficiently, and tends to be less expensive than intermodal transport.


What are the Differences Between Multimodal and Intermodal Transport?

In simple terms, the major difference is that they each utilize a different approach to the movement of products.

While multimodal transport involves shipping out several different loads via different modes of transport, intermodal involves sending out one container that gets transferred from one vehicle to another.

It turns out, however, there are other differences as well that all shippers should be aware of.

In multimodal shipments, the shipper creates a single contract of carriage meant to protect the freight during port-to-door, door-to-port, and door-to-door delivery. Essentially, there is a single carrier for the journey of one particular shipment from the origin point to its destination.

The benefit of this is that shippers can simplify the communication process by working with individual carriers or agents who can guarantee their products get shipped safely and efficiently. Also, a shipper can receive clear communication from these carriers with tracking notifications, shipping updates, and more.

On the other hand, while intermodal shipments only involve one container, multiple contracts still need to be made with individual carriers.

For example, imagine that a manufacturing company is shipping products from the US to a customer in Japan. This shipment would most likely require both truck and ocean shipping services. This will require two different carriers, which will require two specific contracts.

While there will be no problem getting the container transferred, intermodal shipment can create paperwork control issues. When there are multiple contracts involved, there is a greater risk of errors or misunderstandings occurring.

This could, however, also be a benefit: the shipper has the flexibility to choose the exact carriers they want for each individual leg of the shipment.


Your 3PL can Help You Decide on the Perfect Freight Modes

At the end of the day, each shipper will need to decide which method of transportation will be best suited for the particular transportation they’re looking to do.

Partnering with a 3PL like Redwood Logistics can help you determine which of these freight modes would fit your shipping needs best. Additionally, a well-rounded 3PL can manage every aspect of freight movement for your business.

Reach out to Redwood Logistics today to learn how freight modes affect your delivery commitments, customer service, and profits.