What is Multimodal Transport – Breaking Down the Facts and Fiction

Multimodal Transport

Sometimes, a single-mode of transportation is simply not enough. For those products and commodities that require multiple modes of transportation – the multimodal transport option or combined transport is a safe, and efficient way to move products throughout the supply chain. This type of service is offered by professional third-party logistics providers to distribution, retail, and manufacturing companies.

The multimodal transportation industry has several layers, benefits, and a few hurdles that 3PL’s can help their clients navigate. In the information below, we’ll define Multimodal Transport and explain why you can trust an experienced third-party logistics company to help.

Understanding the Facts About Multimodal Transport

By definition, multimodal transport (which is also known as combined transport) is the movement of goods using more than one different mode of transportation, but under the terms of a single contract. With a multimodal transport contract, a carrier is liable for the entire carriage – although it might be shipped through different platforms (such as road, sea, air, or rail). Under most situations, the multimodal carrier (or also known as a multimodal transport operator – MTO) will utilize sub-contracted carriers that specialize in unique modes to transport commodities from the point of origin to its final destination.

What is Intermodal – and is there a Difference?

While they sound similar, there are subtle differences between multimodal and intermodal. The intermodal freight transport involves the transportation of products or commodities in an intermodal container using several modes of transportation. Essentially, the freight is packed inside of a cargo container (or specific vehicle) and does not get moved during transport. The container itself will be offloaded from a truck, train, ship, or air freight, but the products themselves remain ‘secure’. The intermodal transport produces less cargo handling which reduces loss and damage, improves security, and permits quicker and more efficient movement of freight. Intermodal transport also tends to be less costly than multimodal transport.

What are the Differences Between Multimodal and Intermodal Transport?

Based on the descriptions above, it’s rather obvious that the major difference between multimodal and intermodal transport is the movement of the product itself. However, there are some additional differences that all shippers should be aware.

During a multimodal shipment the shipper will create a single contract of carriage. This contract will protect the freight during door-to-door, port-to-door, or door-to-port delivery. Essentially – it’s a single carrier for a single journey from the point of origin to destination. The benefit of this type of movement is that the shipper can simplify the communication process by working with an individual carrier or agent who will ensure their products are shipped safe and efficiently. They will also receive clear communication with shipping updates, tracking notifications, and more.

The intermodal shipment on the other hand might involve one container, but they’ll have to create multiple contracts with individual carriers. For example, if a manufacturing company is shipping their products from a US location to a customer in Japan, they will likely require truck movement and ocean shipping services. This will generally require two different carriers – which will result in two specific contracts. While the container will be transferred, an intermodal shipment can create paperwork control issues – since there are multiple contracts in place. However, a significant benefit to this mode of shipment is that the shipper has the flexibility to choose their carriers for each leg of shipment.

In the end, each shipper will need to determine which method of transportation is best suited for each individual movement. The great news is that a professional 3PL can help you determine which mode is best – and actually manage all aspects of your freight movement. 

Chicago-based Redwood Logistics is a next generation, strategically integrated logistics provider that believes every company’s needs are unique. For more than 15 years, the company has been providing solutions for moving and managing freight and sharing its knowledge across North America. Redwood Logistics is focused on making its customers more successful in their end markets by applying talented and motivated people, proven processes and cutting-edge technologies to optimize their supply chain management efforts.

If you have shipments that require multiple modes of transportation, or any questions about multimodal or intermodal shipping, give us a call today!