The Key to the Cost Effectiveness of Intermodal Shipping

Posted : 03/11/13 4:54 AM

Intermodal shipping is undeniably the most cost effective way to transport bulk cargo because of its integrated use of sea, rail and truck transport to deliver goods in the quickest, most direct way possible. The development of freight handling technologies that allow individual cargos to be tracked from their source to their delivery have contributed to the effectiveness and speed with which cargo can be transported across large distances, but it is the standardization of shipping containers that makes this efficient handling of freight possible. Since their worldwide acceptance in the 1970s, shipping containers have increased the efficiency of transporting goods by reducing handling times when unloading ships and reloading the same cargo onto trains or trucks. The containerization of bulk freight made it possible to develop port facilities that can handle vast numbers of containers in a single day, with the world’s largest port, Shanghai, estimated to have handled 31.7 million containers in 2011 alone1. Alongside the development of increasingly efficient infrastructure in modern ports, the growth in the size of container ships has seen the average transport vessel able to carry 8,000 containers at once, and may transport as many as 200,000 containers in a single year2. Obviously the key to all of this efficiently handled cargo lies with the basic building block of the system, the containers themselves. It is also likely that containerized shipping will continue to become a more efficient mode of transport for bulk cargo in the future as well. There has been a return to investing in railway networks in many countries, and diesel fuel prices have increased dramatically over the past decade. The increased efficiency of using trains to transport cargos inland that have been imported via ship will further reduce the cost of those goods to the final consumer, and continue to stimulate demand for the use and development of increasingly larger and more efficient intermodal freight networks. This efficiency will come through the integration of new technologies that have continuously improved containerized shipping throughout its history. 21st century technologies like satellite navigation for shipping, GPS tracking for containers, and greater computer power in the ports to process the vast amounts of data that go along with handling thousands of containers every day, will continue to contribute to the development and the greater efficiency of intermodal freight. Even with all of this technology, the most important component to all of this efficiency is still the humble shipping container. References:’s_busiest_container_ports