Multimodal transport refers to a combination of at least two means of transport. This results in an integrated transport chain where the strength of each alternative is utilized. Main characteristics of multimodal transportation are transshipment terminals that allow efficient cargo handling between short-distance and long-distance traffic as well as application of standardized and reusable loading units. However, combined freight transport can be organized in different ways. In general, trucks cover short distances between the loading area and the transshipment point respectively between the place of arrival and the recipient. Long-distance haulage is conducted by other means of transport such as train, ship or even plane.
Regarding combined container transport, standardized loading units are transshipped along different means of transport. In doing so, various combinations of land, water, and air transportation are applied in practice. Trailer shipment (rail transport of trailers) refers to a combination of rail and road haulage. Three different modes can be identified.
The rolling road usually describes carriage of whole trucks – including both tractor and trailer – on low floor trains. In this regard, the second alternative that contributes to additional cost savings is forwarding of trailers without the tractor as it reduces transport weight and labor costs. However, this option requires a second tractor at the place of arrival. Swap body transport is basically similar to container transport where loading units are handled by overhead cranes at the transshipment center.
Roll-on roll-off traffic means the carriage of freight vehicles on ships over a certain distance. A rarely applied option is LASH-transportation. In the course of this, an inland water vessel, commonly known as LASH barge, is carried by the barge carrier – a seagoing vessel.
The introduced multimodal modes of transport basically combine the flexibility of trucks with economies of scale of such means of transport that are destined for long-distance forwarding. However, additional handling processes are cost and time consuming. The benefits of utilizing different means of transport ideally outweigh or even exceed the expenses. This mainly depends on the distance to be covered, the efficiency of transshipment points and the goods to be conveyed.