Difference between Intermodal Shipping and Multimodal

First, let’s start with some definitions:

Multimodal: multimodal transport (also known as combined transport) is the transport of goods in a
single contract, but is carried out with at least two different means of transport; the carrier is
responsible (in a legal sense) for all transport, even if it is carried out by different modes of transport (by
rail, sea and road, for example). The carrier does not have to have all the means of transport, and in
practice it usually does not have it; transport is often carried out by subcarriers (referred to in the legal
language as “real carriers”). The carrier responsible for all transportation is known as a multimodal
transport operator or MTO.

Intermodal: intermodal cargo transport involves the transport of cargo in an intermodal container or
vehicle, using multiple modes of transport (rail, ship and truck), without any handling of the cargo when
changing modes. The method reduces the handling of the load and, therefore, improves safety, reduces
damage and losses, and allows transportation to be faster. The reduction of costs on road transport is
the key benefit for intercontinental use. This can be compensated with reduced times for road transport
over shorter distances.

Previous definitions provided by Wikipedia.

Why choose one over the other and what is the difference?

The main difference between Multimodal and Intermodal is the number of contracts that the sender
has with several service providers.
In a multimodal shipment, the sender has a transport contract, which covers all modes of transport
from the origin to the destination, either door to port, port to door or door to door. This is equivalent to
a carrier for a trip. This contract of transport is with 1 carrier, either a steam line or an international
freight forwarder / NVOCC. The steam line / maritime transporter or international freight forwarder /
NVOCC issues a knowledge of combined transport or a multimodal bill of lading.
Benefits: the sender can hold the sole transporter responsible for the movement if a problem arises,
obtain tracking and tracking updates from a carrier and can meet the efficiency in delivery times.
In an intermodal shipment, the sender has several contracts, 1 with a cargo agent or a maritime carrier,
another with a truck driver or trucker and rail carrier in the country of origin and another with a truck
driver or trucker and road transporter in the country of destiny. The carrier issues a bill of lading from
port to port and each additional carrier involved in the shipment issues its own shipping document, such
as the bill of lading for national transport or rail to the sender.
Benefits: the ability to select your own carriers according to the price or service for each shipment, the
possibility of stopping the shipment at a certain point for any reason since controlling each section, and
more agility in the selection of the carrier if there is team or space problems with the carriers.

What is the purpose of choosing Multimodal over Intermodal or vice versa?

The decision as to why you choose one mode over another depends on several factors, such as whether
the sender wishes to have multiple independent contracts with multiple carriers, the total cost
difference between both options, how it affects the drafts and inventory costs, the savings of time
involved in each mode for cargo transport and administrative coordination, environmental impact in
one way over another, and how it alters or affects the paperwork involved in the shipment.
Discuss which option is best for you with your internal logistics team, carrier base and international
freight forwarder.

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