Developmentof Intermodal Transportation in the U.S.

Developmentof Intermodal Transportation in the U.S

Sincethe pre-industrial era, changes in the amount and composition ofcargo moved for long distances in the domestic and global marketsresulted in key changes in freight handling and movement. Major cargoroutes evolved in response to market trends fueled by consumerdemands. The high demand for transportation services saw theconceptualization of intermodal transportation, which forms a keypillar of the world trade and the American economy today. Intermodaltransportation entails the use of different modes of transport todistribute goods packed into a loading unit such as a container, fromthe manufacturer to the client or market. It aims at integratingseveral modes of transport to improve efficiency in the distributionof goods. It has developed gradually in history since theconstruction of rail networks.


Inthe history of transportation in the United States, four major modesof transport have been used to carry goods. These are road, air,water and rail. Water transport transports bulky cargo at low costswhile air transport moves light cargo fast. On the other hand, railtransport moves bulky goods over long distances on land, while roadtransport moves limited cargo over short distances. Various factorshave to into play in recent years in the US regarding the nature oftransportation, the volume of cargo hauled and the distance covered.

Themovement of cargo using two or more modes of transport has beenaround since time immemorial. Waterways were used to move goods andpeople in the early times. During the nineteenth century, railnetworks and railway terminals evolved followed by air and pipelinenetworks. Since then, these modes of transport have been used to movecargo from one point to another in the United States. For instance,in the pre-industrial era, goods were transferred from ships towheeled vehicles on land. This process was facilitated by thedevelopment of docks and ports. After the construction of railwaynetworks and terminals, cargo exchange among the various modes oftransport expanded (Konings,2008).

Thegrowth and expansion of multimodal transportation gradually paved wayfor the introduction of intermodal transportation in the late 20thcentury (Konings,2008).Contrary to multimodal transportation, intermodal transportationintegrated cargo movement from one mode to another in a unitizemanner. In qualitative terms, intermodal transportation was verydistinct from multimodal transportation. This was because in improvedefficiency through increased competition among firms in the freightsector, and sought to enhance transportation by increasing safety,speed, and reducing congestion thereby enhancing efficiency. Greaterefficiency led to lower operation costs and increased thecompetitiveness of American freight firms in the global cargotransport industry.

Thepopularity of intermodal transportation saw the enactment of theIntermodal Surface Transportation Act (ISTEA) that sought toreinforce the significance of intermodal transportation (Konings,2008).It also challenged state authorities and the federal government toincrease linkages among water, land and air transport modes toimprove the effectiveness of the networks in promoting intermodalism.Since the 1980s, sensitizations for improvement of infrastructurecoupled with technological developments have facilitated thefeasibility of intermodal transportation (Konings,2008).The ISTEA Act of 1991 is proof of the increased emphasis placed onintermodal transportation by the United States department ofTransportation.

Thismode of transport continues to gain significance in the movement ofgoods with the primary idea of consolidating loads to enhanceefficiency in long-distance transportation, particularly by rail orsea vessels. This concept explains the popularity and significance ofcontainerization in the US today, which is an ideal example ofintermodal freight transportation. Through intermodal transportation,US consignors are able to move containers for long distances to theirconsignees through various chains and vice versa.

Prosof Intermodal freight

Sinceits development in the 1980s, intermodal freight transportationimproves efficiency and reduces the cost of transport for manyshippers. This mode of transport promotes efficiency throughreduction of transport costs. The modes of transport involved in theintermodal network offer differential cost-benefit advantages due tothe variation in their average distances covered (Bhattacharyaet al., 2014).Moreover, intermodal mode of transport provides more value to theconsignors and consignees. This is attributed to the high level ofenergy efficiency attained because of the integration of variousforms of transport (Bhattacharyaet al., 2014).In addition, intermodal transportation enhances reliability, safetyand capacity. Shippers using intermodal freight transport can accessbetter equipment and regular transit timetables. For this reason,companies using intermodal transportation can streamline theirlogistical issues, which can be cost saving.

Consof intermodal transportation

Thegreatest disadvantage of intermodal transportation is infrastructure.This mode of transport requires more interchanging terminals thatrequire huge capital investments for construction and maintenance.Slow development of infrastructural facilities have caused the slowgrowth of this mode of transport, but the decentralization ofinfrastructural decisions may facilitate its expansion.


Intermodalfreight transportation is a significant factor in the world tradetoday. This mode of transport integrates two or more modes oftransport for cargo-haulage over long distances. It emerged in the USin the 1980s leading to the modern cargo transport industry today.The government played a key role in ensuring that intermodaltransportation develops through initiatives such as infrastructuraldevelopment and enactment of the ISTEA Act of 1991 to oversee itsgrowth. It offers the shippers several benefits that include reducedcosts, reliability, capacity and more value compared to using asingle mode of transport.


Bhattacharya,A., Kumar, S. A., Tiwari, M. K., &amp Talluri, S. (2014). Anintermodal freight transport system for optimal supply chainlogistics.TransportationResearch Part C: Emerging Technologies,&nbsp38,73-84.

Konings,J. W. (2008).&nbspThefuture of intermodal freight transport: operations, design andpolicy.Edward Elgar Publishing.