What is multimodal transport?

Multimodal transport, often wrongly defined as a synonym for intermodal transport, combines two or more modes of transport and makes them into a single transport system, and the cargo itself can change loading units. It is this latter aspect that differentiates multimodal transport from intermodal transport – in intermodal transport, the cargo is placed in the same load unit along the entire route. Intermodal transport itself is a component of combined transport (European intermodal transport), in which goods are transported by rail or ship without transshipment over long distances and road transport is used for short distances.

Three types of multimodal transport are most commonly referred to, i.e. container transport, rail-road transport and land-ferry transport.

Multimodal transport objectives

The main objectives of multimodal transport include minimizing the necessary waiting time for goods and reducing the cost of transporting cargo. Multimodal transport between different continents and countries will only be fully feasible with standardisation and standardisation of loading units, haulage machinery and transport hub equipment. International efforts towards standardized systems allow more frequent use of multimodal transport. One of the key events for the development of this transport model was the introduction of containers, which eliminated the difficulties associated with the transport of goods of different sizes and shapes by different loading units. It is with container transport that multimodal transport is most strongly connected.

Multimodal transport solutions

Multimodal transport most often refers to the combination of transport modes:
– Road transport – rail transport
– Road transport – air transport
– Road transport – sea transport
– Road transport – rail transport – sea transport
However, there are numerous other combinations of transport modes, e.g. rail – sea transport.

Convention on International Multimodal Transport

The first convention on multimodal transport was enacted in 1980 by the United Nations. It is in this Convention on International Multimodal Transport that an official attempt to define multimodal transport is made for the first time. The Convention also introduces, also for the first time, the institution of a multimodal transport operator, defined as an economic entity which undertakes to organize or execute the transport of goods within this transport model.