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August 3, 2023
What is Intermodal Freight Shipping?
The European freight market is huge. In 2022, road freight transport across the EU was estimated to be over 13.6 billion tonnes. With this scale of logistics operations, and the recent history of supply chain disruption, shippers are eager to gain more control over transportation networks and improve their efficiency.

Although it has been used for many years now, intermodal shipping is gaining recognition as a sustainable, forward-thinking solution. By combining different methods or ‘modes’ of transport, intermodal allows businesses to harness the relative strengths of rail, road, sea and air transport for better performance.

In this article, we explain how intermodal freight works, and why it may be the key to the future of freight transport.
Intermodal vs. multimodal freight
Intermodal transportation is often confused with multimodal, and the difference comes down to a contractual issue. Multimodal freight forwarding uses more than two modes of transport, but it is carried out under one single contract under one bill of lading (the detailed list of cargo). This leaves one carrier responsible for all the modes of transport involved in the journey.

With intermodal, on the other hand, shippers have separate contracts with different carriers for each leg of the journey
How intermodal freight works
As we will explore shortly, there are several types of intermodal journeys. The most involved is the transfer of cargo from rail to truck. Here the cargo is moved in a container or trailer via railway for most of the journey, while using road transport for the first and last miles of the trip.

However, in the following example, we’ll see how trains, trucks and ships work together in domestic and international shipping:
Other types of intermodal transport
Most commonly used for international shipments, here cargo is moved from land to sea transport and vice versa.
For shorter sea routes, goods are taken to shipping ports via trucks, where they are then loaded onto a ship for sea transit. At the destination port, they are then transferred back on to a truck for the last-mile.
Here cargo is transported via truck to an airport, loaded onto the aircraft and then transferred to truck again for the last-mile. Less frequent than other modes, air-to-truck is used in more time-sensitive situations.
Why use intermodal transport?
1. Costs
Using a combination of transportation modes for different parts of the journey can help shippers optimise cost. For example, rail transport is more fuel efficient than trucks. On top of this, having cargo remain in one container reduces the time and labour involved in transportation, allowing shippers to keep to budgets.
2. Reliability
Intermodal gives shippers the advantage of overcoming traffic congestion that slows down delivery when using road transport. Railways, for example, have dedicated infrastructure that makes them less prone to delays, allowing for more reliable delivery.

3. Security
Since intermodal transportation removes the need to handle freight during transit, it is a safer and more secure form of transit. Locked containers help prevent stolen and lost goods compared to other cargo transported via road. Different terminals throughout the intermodal journey also provide added security checkpoints to guard against theft.

4. Sustainability
Intermodal freight is in many ways more eco-friendly. Rail transportation is more fuel efficient than road, reducing air pollution from carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases. The combination of rail and trucks also allows for shorter distances that can rely on smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles over larger, diesel-powered trucks.

5. Capacity
Ships and trains have greater size and weight capacity than full truckload (FTL) trucks. When shipments are oversized, intermodal containers and special equipment allows shippers to transport larger, heavier cargo.

6. Driver experience
The freight industry is becoming more affected by labour shortages, specifically, a lack of drivers. The long-haul routes taken by HGV drivers often mean demanding work hours and lots of time spent away from their families.

Intermodal not only lets shippers move more volumes without increasing the driver pool, it shortens distances for many drivers—creating a better experience. This provides an incentive to continue taking on transportation jobs.
Amazon Freight connects you with trusted, efficient carrier partners
From advanced lane-matching to GPS-tracked vehicles, we are constantly innovating to provide customers with freight transportation that keeps customers happy and costs to a minimum.

Our extensive carrier network can cover short and long-haul distances to meet your freight transportation needs. To find out more, contact us today at: freight-uk-interest@amazon.com
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