Intermodal transport vs. multimodal transport

A logical question that arises in relation to transport systems is which is best. When it comes to establishing the best way to transport goods over long distances, the key is to understand the differences between intermodal vs. multimodal transport. Although you may have tried to understand it, you may be confused by the differences or think that one is part of the other. As we will see in this article, there are clear differentiations and you can define the advantages and disadvantages of each. Let’s now look at what they are to answer any questions you may have.

Two modes of transport providing solutions

Since globalisation, and especially in the last two years, the demand for goods and services has increased dramatically and the paradigm has changed completely. Today, consumer demands are not only related to product quality, but also to efficiency and speed of delivery. Freight transport has not remained oblivious to this phenomenon and has also become part of these new forms of accelerated consumption, especially through intermodal and multimodal transport.

Multimodal and intermodal transport are two distinct operations designed to move freight. Intermodal transport is basically a land transport system that uses at least two integrated modes in the transport chain. Multimodal transport, on the other hand, uses more than one type of vehicle to get the cargo to its final destination. In this case, the loads that are moved are diverse, such as pallets, containers, among others.

The differences between intermodal vs. multimodal transport

As mentioned above, while multimodal transport involves transporting goods between countries using different modes of transport, intermodal transport links different transport systems using swap bodies, trailers and Intermodal Transport Units (ITUs). The choice between the two depends solely on the specific needs of the company.

In multimodal transport, the goods travel in packages of different sizes depending on the content of the cargo. In intermodal transport, on the other hand, the operation is carried out with intermodal transport units including containers, swap bodies, trailers and goods units.

Now that you know the characteristics of both operations, it is time to look at why you should choose one or the other to understand which is better suited to your company’s needs.

The advantages and disadvantages of multimodal transport

In this type of transport operation, the main objective is that the cargo is not broken during transport and that a unified document, the FIATA Bill of Landing (FBL), is created. This document allows the freight forwarder to take on the role of carrier.

The advantages:

  • Reduced costs and travel times are achieved.
  • There is less risk of loss and theft of goods.
    The FBL’s preferential entry and customs clearance can be used.
  • Overall route scheduling and costs are simplified.


  • Operational and legal constraints can be found in different international regulations.
  • In many cases, the infrastructure necessary to carry out this transport with guarantees and benefits is often lacking.

The advantages and disadvantages of intermodal transport

The focus in this transport system is on semi-trailers, containers and swap bodies that facilitate the change between the different means of transport to be used throughout the journey.

The advantages:

  • A document is issued for each carrier providing an individual service.
  • Prices are defined on a transaction-specific basis.
  • Insurance premiums are less expensive.
  • Inspections are fewer, making everything more streamlined.
  • The load capacity is higher.
  • Loading and unloading times are shorter.
  • It is a more environmentally friendly system because it tends to seek the least polluting transport mix.


  • It tends to be slower than multimodal transport because speed is not always the primary consideration in the choice of mode of transport.
  • The infrastructure required is often expensive.
  • Naturally, the packaging required to ensure that the transported goods reach their destination undamaged requires additional costs.

How to choose between intermodal and multimodal transport?

When choosing between one modality or another for the transfer of products and goods, all the aspects that we have mentioned as advantages and disadvantages of each of the services must be considered. From the point of view of the company’s operations, some aspects and questions must also be observed, such as the number of contracts to be managed, the overall costs, the impact on inventory, delivery times and administrative coordination, as well as environmental impacts.

So, beyond thinking about what is preferable, whether multimodal or intermodal transport, companies should require a system that works for them and that is set up to work in relation to costs and times, as well as the choice of suppliers. It is also key to consider with which system the best tracking and tracing routing scenarios can be achieved. This aspect plays a very important role. In order to define it, the question of the coordination capacity between suppliers of goods and carriers will make the difference and facilitate the management of the various contracts.

Tradisa is an integrated logistics operator in Europe for the automotive sector, petroleum products and other synergistic sectors such as consumer electronics. If you have any doubts or wish to contract our services, you can contact us here. If you need global logistics solutions, you can rely on us. We manage fleets, vehicle delivery, remarketing and mobility projects.

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