Difference between Intermodal and Multimodal

Intermodal and Multimodal – These two terms are often used loosely and interchangeably, but the question is what is the difference..

Here, we will discuss what they mean and what they represent in day to day shipping and freight environment..

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Definitions :

Intermodal – is the movement of cargo from origin to destination by several modes of transport where each of these modes have a different transport provider or entity responsible, each with its own independent contract.. Multiple carriers during a single journey

Multimodal – is the movement of cargo from origin to destination by several modes of transport where each of these modes have a different transport provider or entity responsible, but under a single contract.. Single carrier during a single journey

Simply put, the key functions of both terminologies are the same, but the differentiation lies in the contract and responsibility of the movement..

Explanation :

Intermodal operation : Cargo moving from Leicester in UK to Pretoria in South Africa – Cargo is packed in Leicester and moved by truck to the port of Felixstowe by a transport service provider (could also be termed as an Intermodal service provider) under the employ of the shipper..

intermodal

From Felixstowe, the carrier takes responsibility of the movement of the cargo to the discharge port in South Africa – say Durban..

From Durban port the consignee uses their transport service provider (could also be termed as an Intermodal service provider) to move the cargo by rail from to Pretoria Rail Terminal followed by a road move to their premises or a full road move from Durban port to their premises in Pretoria..

The rail and road service may be provided by the same transport service provider or could be done by two different service providers..

In this case, the carrier issues a Port to Port Bill of lading, and the whole operation is called an Intermodal Operation as it involves several contracts :

  • Between Seller or Buyer and Transport service provider for road/rail movement from Leicester to Felixstowe
  • Between Seller or Buyer and Carrier for sea movement from Felixstowe to Durban
  • Between Seller or Buyer and Transport service provider(s) for rail/road movement from Durban to Pretoria

The costs/risks for such contracts will of course depend on the Incoterms® used for this trade..

Multimodal operation : Cargo moving from Leicester in UK to Pretoria in South Africa – Cargo is packed in Leicester and moved by truck to the port of Felixstowe by a transport service provider (could also be termed as an Intermodal service provider) under the employ of the carrier..

multimodal

Cargo moves from Felixstowe to the discharge port in South Africa – say Durban..

From Durban port a transport service provider (could also be termed as an Intermodal service provider) under the employ of the carrier moves the cargo by rail from to Pretoria Rail Terminal followed by a road move to the consignee’s premises or a full road move from Durban port to consignee’s premises in Pretoria..

The rail and road service may be provided by the same transport service provider or could be done by two different service providers..

Here, neither the seller nor the buyer are arranging any contracts other than their contract of carriage with the carrier..

In this case, the carrier issues a Combined Transport Bill of Lading or a Multimodal Bill of Lading, and the whole operation is called a Multimodal Operation and it involves a single contract :

  • Between Seller or Buyer and Carrier for sea movement from Felixstowe to Durban

The costs/risks for such contracts will of course depend on the Incoterms® used for this trade..

More often than not, the above movements on the land leg are outsourced by the carrier to transport service providers as a lot of the carriers don’t have their own infrastructure to carry out these movements.. However, here the carrier enters into direct contract with their service providers..

Have you had any issues dealing with Intermodal or Multimodal transport..??



You can share your views about above article here..

25 comments on “Difference between Intermodal and Multimodal

  1. Will Petty says:

    Great article and blog, but I have a clarification question: on your “multi-modal” example, would there really just be one contract between seller/buyer and carrier for the sea movement from Felixstowe to Durban? Depending on the incoterms there would presumably be two contracts – one between seller and carrier for Leicester to wherever, and one between the buyer and carrier between wherever and Pretoria…?

    1. Hello Will, thanks for your comment.. Presume you are referring to “modes have a different transport provider or entity responsible, but under a single contract” in the article..

      The term contract is mentioned in the article in the context of the contract between the shipper and the carrier.. In the case of multimodal movement, the carrier undertakes to move cargo from door to door and issues a Combined Transport Bill of Lading and under this movement all the contracts between door to door will be handled by the carrier under a single contract..

      Depending on Incoterms, there may well be other contracts between other parties, but the carrier has no connection with Incoterms agreed between seller and buyer (http://shippingandfreightresource.com/incoterms-and-the-shipping-line/).. Carrier merely undertakes to move the cargo from Point A to Point B based on the agreement with the shipper..

      Trust this assists..

  2. shadrack kidulile says:

    hello guys somebody can help me the relationship between multimodalism and intermodalism and conternalization.

  3. Alberto says:

    Hello. Thank you so much for your aclaration. I have studied Transport&Logistics in Barcelona and have had “a few” notes&websites about multimodal and intermodal and none of them showed a clear difference between them.

    1. Hello Alberto, glad that I could be of help.. :) Pls let your peers know about this site so that they can also benefit..

  4. Emmanuel Mentor Dzunu says:

    Hi, I’m mentor under graduate student from Ghana. I’ve found your article to be very useful as I’m planning to write my thesis in logistics management. Hope to receiving more of such in order to aid my studies. Thanks.

  5. Ophir says:

    Excellent explanation. I appreciate the simplicity!

    1. You are welcome Ophir, that is precisely the objective of this blog..

  6. Premkumar H S says:

    Dear Hariesh, Just as I was preparing for a workshop on Multimodal Transportation for my students, I saw this post and found it very useful. Thanks!

    1. You are welcome Premkumar, please circulate the information about this blog among your students..

  7. tarek ali says:

    excellent

  8. Vincent says:

    Dear Hariesh,
    Preparing a lesson on intermodal, I was reading this post.
    it’s clear and perfectly described but I wonder if these definitions are shared by any shipping conventions or clearly used as you described.
    Taking into account the terminlogy as established by european community, I found
    “”MULTIMODAL TRANSPORT:Carriage of goods by two or more modes of transport””. (as simple as is), but precised by some (as ITF) as case where the cargo is unloaded/loaded in the second (or more) mean of transport
    and
    “”INTERMODAL TRANSPORT : The movement of goods in one and the same loading unit or road vehicle, which uses successively two or more modes of transport without handling the goods themselves in changing modes.
    By extension, the term intermodality has been used to describe a system of transport whereby two or more modes of transport are used to transport the same loading unit or truck in an integrated manner, without loading or unloading, in a [door to door] transport chain. “” in this case cargo remains in the same loading unit (namely the container) and no loading/unloading of the cargo (but the unit).
    Then as per my understanding, Multimodal will refer to bulk shipment (or any breakbuk) and Intermodal to container.
    On the other side, I agree that we are using, within shipping industry, multimodal BL (Us case) or for Haz, Multimodal Dangerous Goods Forms.
    What is your point of view on this terminology ?
    thks
    Vincent

    1. Ophir says:

      That’s another excellent way of explaining the difference nice and simple.

      Intermodal = Multimodal + containers.
      Multimodal = Intermodal – containers.

    2. Hello Vincent, my apologies for having missed to respond to your comment..

      Firstly, this article, the definition and the explanation given for Intermodal and Multimodal relates to containerised cargoes only which is where these two terms are mostly used..

      It maybe easier to remember it this way..

      Both models cover door to door movement, but
      – in Intermodal it involves multiple contracts and
      – in Multimodal it involves one contract

      Here when I say contract, I refer to the contract between carrier and shipper (or buyer)..

      It is very rare that a carrier undertakes to do the full logistics multimodal move in bulk or break bulk cargo flows.. At best, the carrier’s “agent” might undertake to handle the full logistic chain, but very very seldom the carrier..

      Multimodal could however include Groupage cargoes or LCL cargoes where the carrier, their agent, forwarder or groupage operator may undertake to handle the movement from door to door under one contract and this movement could involve truck from shipper’s door to CFS, rail from CFS to port, sea from port to port, barge from port to CFS, truck from CFS to consignee’s door..

  9. Vikram says:

    Thanks for the clarification

  10. Saleem says:

    Dear Hariesh Manaadiar,

    I’m working as an Operation Executive in a freight forwarding company in Singapore.

    Would like to say that you’ve done an excellent job. This website is very informative and also with very detailed and easy to understand explanation.

    Thank you so much Hariesh Manaadiar.

    Thanks a lot for sharing the knowledge. Commendable of you to have such a great website.

    1. Hi Saleem thanks for your kind words.. I am glad to be of help.. Please spread the word around your contacts so a lot more people may benefit from this..

  11. Edwin says:

    My name is Edwin from Ghana and my profession is Shipping. This is a great resource. Thanks

    1. Thanks for the comment Edwin from Ghana.. :) Trust you would have subscribed so you can keep receiving new value articles for free..

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  13. Karthikeyan. J says:

    very good explanations. Thank you sir!

  14. Yashvant Warang says:

    I am in India (Mumbai ) My Profession is Shipping and I am working with one of large Import /Export Company .

    Like this type of information is improve my knowledge.

    Thanks,

    1. Glad to be of help Yashvant..

    2. Johanna Nakatumbe says:

      please reply on Vincent’s comment for i was taught the same thing by my Logistics lecturer. its an informative site though.
      Thank you!