Skip to content
Skip to content

What Is Intermodal?

Intermodal Freight Transportation is defined as the movement of cargo in shipping containers or trailers by more than one mode of transport (rail, ship, or truck). Each year, a fleet of more than 34.5 million containers circling the globe are responsible for moving more than half of a billion shipments between shippers and customers worldwide. It is estimated that about 95 percent of the world’s manufactured goods at some time travel in a container before they arrive in the hands of the customer.

Modern intermodal container shipping and the global intermodal supply chain are relatively new transportation innovations, having only been demonstrated as a feasible concept 60 years ago. This container, also referred to as a "box," has fundamentally changed how the world’s businesses conduct trade.

The industry connects a number of freight stakeholders. At $40 Billion, the North American Intermodal Market is the largest in the world. It relies on a fleet of more than 700,000 chassis to move the domestic and international containers moving on its network.

What is INTERMODAL?

Intermodal is the movement of cargo in shipping containers or trailers by more than one mode of transportation.

North American intermodal market value $40 billion

iana
Back to Top

Why Intermodal?

  • Environmental Stewardship

    Icon-Enviro110 [png]Intermodal provides a more environmentally friendly transportation solution and a reduced carbon footprint. A typical intermodal train is equivalent to 280 truckloads, and can move one ton of freight 470 miles on a gallon of fuel. This translates to fewer trucks on the highways, less congestion and GHG emissions, and fewer accidents.
  • Cargo Security

    Icon-Security110 [png] Intermodal’s freight loss and damage statistics have steadily decreased over the past 20 years. Since 1995, L & D experienced by Class 1 railroads has dropped by 75%. Intermodal also operates in a more closed-loop environment, where improved security of the cargo results in less thefts.
  • Cost-Effective

    Icon-Cost110 [png]Intermodal provides economies of scale when cost control is critical. Transportation on average amounts to 60+ percent of a shipper’s logistics expenses. Intermodal can add capacity through double-stacking while maintaining a fuel efficiency advantage, making it the cost-effective transportation option particularly at distances of 500 miles or more.
  • Service Consistency

    Icon-Service140 [png]Port and marine terminal upgrades, rail line-haul investments and new inland facilities are growing the North American intermodal network and boosting its capacity. The results are increased system-wide resilience, improved and scalable service, and greater origin and destination choices.
  • Visibility

    Icon-Visibility110 [png]Technology and the "internet of things" translates into visibility across the supply chain, from origination to last mile drayage. An increasingly interconnected intermodal network and the rapid deployment of information-sharing solutions generate more revenue per mile with shared benefits for importers, exporters and carriers.Technology and the "internet of things" translates into visibility across the supply chain, from origination to last mile drayage. An increasingly interconnected intermodal network and the rapid deployment of information-sharing solutions generate more revenue per mile with shared benefits for importers, exporters and carriers.

In addition, Intermodal contributes to overall National Transportation policy. Its infrastructure is largely privately funded and helps address challenges associated with the Highway Trust Fund’s ability to support the short- and long-term needs of our deteriorating infrastructure.

Intermodal Factbook: An Introduction to Intermodal Freight

factbook

Intermodal Factbook: An Introduction to Intermodal Freight is a downloadable publication providing an overview of the intermodal industry including what it is and its history, the benefits if offers, how the system works, the types of equipment in use and the role of IANA.

Download the IANA Intermodal Factbook: An Introduction to Intermodal Freight in PDF format.

IANA’s Intermodal Glossary

IANA’s online Intermodal Glossary provides comprehensive definitions for common intermodal terms and acronyms.