Intermodal vs. Multimodal: What is the Difference?


When shipping using a variety of forms of transportation, you may have run into the terms intermodal and multimodal. Sometimes these terms are incorrectly used interchangeably.

When using a Transloading service like Cratex Group, understanding the difference and communicating your wants properly to your shipping agents can help alleviate any misunderstandings.

Let us take a look at the difference between intermodal shipping and multimodal shipping.

Intermodal Shipping

Simply put, intermodal shipping is when your shipments are handled by several different shipping companies.

Let us say that you need to move a large amount of cargo to another site. Both of these sites are land locked and on different continents. This could mean in order to move your cargo, you will contact a trucking company to transport your shipment to a rail yard. Once at the rail yard, you will move your cargo to a shipping port. The cargo will be loaded on to a ship and moved overseas to another port- where it will be unloaded and moved to another rail carrier. Finally the shipment will be trucked from the rail yard to your destination location.

When using intermodal shipping, each leg of that shipment will be handled by a separate company. This means that you will have to have several contracts, one with each carrier to handle their specific leg of the shipment.

There are some advantages to doing this. You can negotiate terms separately with each company. This also means more overhead for you, as you will need to keep track of several contracts with different providers. You may also be responsible for handling coordination of delays, as one company will not be aware of the delays that another company might be having.

Multimodal Shipping

If we look back to our example above, multimodal shipping would be where one company or one contract would handle all legs of the journey. This means that the same company is going to responsible for moving your shipment in all legs, in all modes.

This can be set up in a couple of ways. You could go with a company that has all of these modes of transport available to them. Another way to set up a single contract for yourself is to use an agent. An agent would do all the negotiation on the back end for you while you only have one contract to keep track of. The agent would also be responsible for coordinating loading, unloading, and delays.

This method holds several advantages, the first being less overhead for you. Companies that handle multimodal shipping will be able to handle delays in one leg of the shipment in relation to the other legs without you needing to be involved. This method can be more expensive, so remember to check your costs up front.

Contact Cratex Group with any transloading needs you might have for your intermodal or multimodal shipments!