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Intermodal transportation is using interconnecting modes of transportation to ship product from one location to its destination. By utilizing multiple modes such as railroad, ship and tractor-trailer, the product can travel without reloading the shipping container. The ideal situation is for all transportation elements to meld into a seamless system for the effective and flexible needs of shippers.


Container Ships

Container shipping services are important to global trade. Purchasing products from overseas can require using container shipping in order to get the product to its final destination. Purchasing product from overseas and shipping via air does get the product to the final destination sooner, however, this is not generally a cost effective method of shipping large quantity or heavy weight loads.

The world's biggest container ships are about 1,300 feet with a maximum width of 180 feet (55 meters). Their engines weigh 2,300 tons, their propellers 130 tons, and there are twenty-one stories between their bridge and their engine room. They can be operated by teams of just thirteen people and a sophisticated computer system and carry 11,000 20-foot containers. If that number of containers were loaded onto a train it would need to be 44 miles or 71 kilometers long! – World Shipping Council


Semi Trucks

A tractor-trailer’s intermodal purpose is to take the container to its final destination from either a rail or a sea location. A regular semi-truck needs forklifts and/or cranes to load and unload containers, but now there are trailers equipped to perform this by themselves. A “Sidelifter” is a semi-trailer with hydraulic cranes mounted at both ends of the chassis allowing for the loading and unloading of shipping containers without the need of a forklift or other container handling equipment.



Container shipping uses standard sized containers of 20 foot (6.09 meters), 40 foot (12.18 meters), 45 foot (14.6 meters) and 53 foot (16.15 meters). TEU is twenty-foot equivalent unit, which is the standard measure. Containers are built to international standards making them interchangeable between shipping companies, rail and truck companies. The different types of containers include open end, open side, open top, half height, flat rack, refrigerated, liquid build (tank), modular and standard dry cargo. Containers are generally constructed of aluminum or steel with each container size and type built according to the same ISO (International Organization for Standardization) specifications, regardless of where the container is manufactured.

A side note on containers:

ISBU is from the name Inter-modal Steel Building Unit. Since 2006 the Shipping Containers have become very popular and trendy for use as home, storage, prefab, and business construction purposes. Since 1954 the principle use for Shipping Containers is for International ocean shipping, truck, or train freight, and occasional secure storage. Only recently has the world begun to realize their value in housing, office construction, storage and emergency shelters. The possibilities are virtually endless.

Intermodal and Container History

History of Containerization
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The history of the container
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Intermodal Transportation History
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Websites of Interest

Glossary of Industry Terms
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Container ship design
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Images of self-loading trailers
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Containerizing the Joint Force by Lieutentant Colonel James C. Bates, USA (Ret.)
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Photos from Canadian Pacific
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Pictures: Amersterdam's Lean, Green Shipping container Homes
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