Intermodal transport

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Intermodal freight train on the Gotthard Railway

Intermodal transport is a special form of multimodal transport and describes a multi-link transportation chain , affecting both the passenger and freight transport. In passenger transport, different modes of transport are linked within a single travel chain. In freight transport, one and the same transport or loading unit is transported using at least two different modes of transport. Combined transport is a subordinate form of intermodal transport .


The term “intermodal transport” is often equated with the terms multimodal and combined transport . This approach falls short, especially for freight transport, and the European Conference of Transport Ministers therefore introduced a definition (not generally recognized):

Intermodal transport comprises the transport of goods in one and the same loading unit or the same road vehicle with two or more modes of transport, whereby the loading unit is changed but the transported goods themselves are not transshipped.


In transportation, the term intermodality originally came from the field of goods transport and was first used in the United States in the 1960s when standardized containers were introduced that could be transported by rail , truck and ship . With containerization, the individual modes of transport took a back seat and the “inter modes” transport chain, between several modes of transport or technologies, came to the fore. "Intermodal" means that, for example, a truck is transported by rail for part of its journey ( piggyback transport ); the goods are picked up and delivered on the street. In this way, diverse combinations of connections between sea and inland waterway vessels, road vehicles, railways, pipelines and even airplanes can be established. In many cases, the reason for a combination arises from natural circumstances. Ship transport will usually be part of an intermodal chain, as the goods are mostly not produced or consumed in the port, but in the hinterland and thus require pre- and post-carriage with other modes of transport. This raises the question of which means of transport should be used. When assessing this question, the deeper conceptual content of the word “intermodal” becomes clear. It is about combining individual perceptual contents from different areas of life and experience with one another to form a more complex knowledge.

There are numerous umbrella organizations that work for individual areas of transport and, for example, strive to improve road traffic, as well as various organizations that take care of linking two or more modes of transport.

The latter is of great importance insofar as each mode of transport has certain strengths and advantages, but also weaknesses. The ship transports enormous quantities of goods with low energy consumption, but can also cause far-reaching environmental damage. The truck is very efficient due to its flexibility, but puts a heavy burden on our infrastructure and air due to the bulkiness associated with its low loading capacity; it also contributes to an increased accident rate in road traffic. The railroad transports large quantities in an energy-efficient and space-saving manner, but due to its less dense network of routes compared to the road, it is only efficient in direct transport where block trains are integrated into the production processes of large plants. The aircraft , like the ship, is a natural partner in the intermodal chain, is preferred in long-haul traffic with a not too voluminous load due to its speed, but loses this advantage in the near and middle range due to extensive and time-consuming controls and is increasingly hindered through a crowded airspace; its high energy consumption and the associated environmental pollution also have a negative effect on the assessment.

Intermodal transport is now a generally recognized means of reducing environmental pollution and relieving the road and motorway network. An ideal transport economy would use each means of transport according to its particular advantages and in many cases come to a combined solution to the transport problem. Such a procedure would make economic sense and would be desirable for the economy as a whole, since the harmful consequences of certain transport processes could be minimized.


  • Gérard Duc, Olivier Perroux, Hans-Ulrich Schiedt, François Walter (eds.): Histoire des transports et de la mobilité / Transport and mobility history. Entre concurrence modale et coordination (de 1918 à nos jours) / Between modal competition and coordination (1918 in our days) . Editions Alphil, Neuchâtel 2014, ISBN 978-2-940489-54-1 .
  • European Intermodal Association EIA (Ed.): Intermodal Transport in Europe Brussels 2005 - [1]
  • UNCTAD: Fostering competitive multimodal transport services. 1995 - available here
  • UNCTAD / ICC: Rules for Multimodal Transport Documents. - available here

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Characterization of multimodal and intermodal road users. In: Retrieved May 11, 2016 .
  2. Sebastian Kummer: Introduction to Transport Economics . UTB Verlag, 2006, ISBN 3-8252-8336-4 , pp. 48 .
  3. Terminology of Combined Transport (PDF; 289 kB)