Differentiate between multimodal and intermodal transportation

Multimodal vs. Intermodal Transportation

While moving your goods from one place to another, deciding the best transportation route to get the deliveries from door to door at the right time becomes crucial. This is when the choice between intermodal and multimodal transportation comes to play.

To move products from a shipper at the origin to a consignee at the destination, two modes of cargo transportation are used: intermodal and multimodal. Both use a combination of two or more modes of transportation to move goods.

The most fundamental difference between both shipping methods lies in their contract. Different shipping companies handle intermodal transport; a single carrier takes multimodal transit.

This blog will explore the intermodal and multimodal transportation modes and their differences.

Intermodal transportation

Intermodal transportation is among the most common freight shipping modes, generally incorporating two or more modes of transportation. The shipping modes include trucks, rail, barge, ship, or any combination. In intermodal transport, the customer contracts with multiple companies.

Benefits of intermodal transportation

  1. Multiple contracts: Since intermodal transportation entails numerous contracts with different contractors, you will always have the choice to select your carriers at every single shipment stage.
  2. Eco-friendly: With intermodal transportation, you can choose a mode that is fuel efficient and emits less carbon in the atmosphere. This can lower the carbon footprint, thus reducing the environmental impact.
  3. Shipping Cost: Intermodal transportation system helps to reduce transportation costs. Using a truck or a rail requires less fuel than other modes of transport, thus reducing the cost impact. Furthermore, each mode can fit the shipping containers without difficulty and allows one to switch them easily.
  4. Easy Negotiations: With intermodal transportation, negotiations are easy to make; you can always choose which contractors are handling your cargo, thus giving you more control over the quality and safety of the shipping.

Multimodal transportation

Multimodal transportation uses many modes of transport for the shipment of goods, but unlike intermodal transportation, it is regulated by a single contract.

One carrier is accountable for transportation journeys rather than multiple specialized contractors. Different companies may be involved if the carrier provides only some services across cargo transport. This carrier is a multimodal transport operator, or MTO, and will be legally accountable for cargo shipping.

Benefits of multimodal transport

  1. Less time-consuming: Since multimodal transportation requires only one single contract, it reduces the time and paperwork necessary for cargo shipping. A multimodal contract frequently results in less complexity and pressure.
  2. Coordination expenses: The contractor you are hired will handle everything. As a result, you won’t have to pay an additional fee for coordinating costs.
  3. Shipping track efficiency: With multimodal transportation, you can monitor your shipments from the origin point to the point of destination with utmost ease and convenience.
  4. Multimodal transport operator: The MTO will be accountable for any unexpected costs or damage incurred during the shipment journey.

Moreover, all the delays or issues will be handled by them.

Difference between Intermodal and Multimodal Transportation

The above discussion concludes that intermodal and multimodal transportation methods are similar yet different. The following elements account for the differences between the two transportation modes.


In multimodal transportation, one agreement covers the entire shipment journey, and in intermodal transport, there is a separate contract for each mode of transportation. Intermodal permits the shipper to select which contractors will deal with their cargo, while in the case of multimodal transport, MTO gets to pick the contractor.

Responsibility of goods

In multimodal transportation, one carrier takes sole responsibility. It ensures door-to-door delivery, even if multiple carriers are used on the journey. In intermodal transport, the burden of goods is distributed among all participants involved in the transportation of goods. As a result, accountability shifts from creating difficulty to upholding stringent quality control. Finding the offender in cases of damaged products also becomes exceptionally challenging.


Intermodal transportation allows the carrier contractor to choose the most appropriate transportation mode. The mode choice in a multimodal transportation system depends entirely on the service provider.

Cost of transportation

Intermodal transportation deals with a new agreement for each mode of transportation, which increases the overall fee of shipment for the contractor. In the case of a multimodal transportation system, the initial cost of availing of such a service is high. Still, the overall package for the consumer may be more cost-efficient than intermodal. Also, multimodal transportation gives better routing efficiency than intermodal transportation.

Rules and regulations

In the shipment of goods within a country, one need not worry about the government rules and regulations, be it intermodal or multimodal transportation. If the point of origin and destination are in two different countries in that scenario, shipment companies are required to create a contract covering both governments’ rules and regulations. Since it has fewer complicated rules and regulations, dealing with international transport is the ideal option. Additionally, several countries need more infrastructure for multimodal transportation.


In intermodal transportation, the carrier provides a bill of lading at each node, which shifts the responsibility of the cargo to the next service provider. Therefore, the process can become complicated during cargo claimants and get tangled in numerous conditions. However, in the case of multimodal transportation, one contract is valid, and the service provider is entitled to compensation in unfavourable circumstances.

Documentation and Insurance

For multimodal transportation, generally, one bundle of documents is drawn up for all goods; however, in the case of intermodal, several different documents are required for all participants responsible for the carriage of products. Single umbrella insurance covers every mode of transportation in the case of multimodal transportation when it comes to insurance. As we know, intermodal transport requires a new contract for each leg of the journey, which increases the overall cost of operation.

Speed vs Cost

Both options are considered efficient when it comes to speed. However, multimodal transportation is the best when commuters put more emphasis on speed than the cost of transportation. Intermodal transport is cost-efficient, but planning a cost-efficient and fast route can take a lot of time and effort. In the case of intermodal transportation, cost-effectiveness comes before speed.

Intermodal and multimodal transportation are the two most common modes of transportation used for cargo shipment. For the unit transportation of goods from the origin to the end customer, you must be aware of intermodal and multimodal transportation. Both possess their own set of advantages. Choosing a specific transportation mode depends on priorities and the nature of your cargo.

LOTUS Containers helps you choose from different shipping containers required for international shipping. Visit us for more information.

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