Intermodal transportation is the process of products transfer which involves several modes of transportation. The term “intermodal” means that freight is being transferred by different types of transport. There is another term for this process which is more descriptive. Intermodal transportation can be also called “multimodal”. Units that accord to several transport modes, which can be swapped between one another, are specially designed for carrying and protecting the cargo. DeWitt and Clinger (2000) state that intermodal movement involves the physical infrastructure, goods movement and transfer, and information drivers and capabilities under a single freight bill (DeWitt & Clinger, 2000). The “concept of logistically linking a freight movement with one or more transport modes is centuries-old” (DeWitt & Clinger, 2000). The main transport modes are roads, railroads, inland waters, open seas, air. Considering the statement of DeWitt and Clinger (2000), each of the transportation modes has evolved technologically and functioned separately under a modally based regulatory structure for most of the 20th century (DeWitt & Clinger, 2000).
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The modern process of intermodal transportation includes not only transportation itself, but also containerization of cargo. As soon as freight is loaded in containers, it starts its way to the destination. The first mode to use is trucs. They carry the cargo to railroads where it is shifted into train wagons. A single intermodal freight train can hold as much freight as almost three hundred trucks. So, the amount of cargo is quite large. The next mode can be a ship or a plane. The freight is loaded on board with the help of lift crane and is sent either by water or air. Of course, the intermodal transportation can use the same modes several times. As the destinations are big companies and/or corporations, they are not probably situated directly near the intermodal terminals. Intermodal terminals are the stations where the cargo is taken off one transport mode and loaded onto another one.
Intermodal transportation plays a great role in supply chains. Mentzer et al. (2001) define a supply chain as a set of organizations which are directly linked by one or more of the upstream and downstream flows of products, services, finances, and information from a source to a customer (Mentzer et al., 2001). So, the transport modes are the connectives between sources and customers. Considering the rapid development of world’s technologies, it is quite expected that transport modes, which are involved in supply chains, get integrated. And success of supply chains execution depends on the system of integrated intermodal transport. The more intermodal transport is integrated, the more each party (sources and customers) is satisfied.
The significance of intermodaal transport in the movement of freight is growing. As modern technologies allow making an order to source companies that produce any kind of goods and services all over the world, the only way to deliver whatever a customer ordered is to use intermodal transportation. In future, intermodal transport will still be of a great significance. It is expected to become faster, because customers will demand their goods and commodities to be delivered more quickly; better, for customers who want more quality and reliability from supply chains; smarter, owing to bigger access to information through the use of capabilities of information and communication; and more profitable, because both customers and operators of supply chains will want the whole process to be much cheaper. According to DeWitt and Clinger (2000), a more significant role of intermodal transport will be in global supply chains. It will require an understanding of supply chain management, needs and requirements of the marketplace, the capabilities and advances in information and communication technologies, and the continuing challenges and constrains on transport infrastructure (DeWitt & Clinger, 2000).
In conclusion, the meaning and the significance of the term “intermodal” transportation shows that goods and commodities transfers are executed with the help of different means of transport, and that they all are needed and important.