Those in the shipping industry already know that successfully transporting goods from point A to point B is laborious, complicated, and involves the coordination of dozens of companies, individuals, and other entities. 

Businesses that want to streamline this process and untangle some of its complications turn to one solution: multimodal shipping.

But what is multimodal shipping? How is it different from other methods of transporting goods, like intermodal shipping, and how does it benefit businesses and consumers? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about multimodal shipping.

What Is Multimodal Shipping?

Multimodal shipping refers to freight shipping that involves more than one mode of transport. It can include any combination of shipping methods, such as:1 

  • Air transport
  • Rail
  • Truck
  • Ship 

For example, cargo might start its journey by leaving a warehouse in a truck, get taken to a railyard, and loaded on a train, where it’s then brought to a port and shipped across the ocean. This is considered combined transport as it starts with a truck and then moves on to a rail carrier and lastly uses ship transport mode.

But no matter the combination of transportation methods, multimodal shipments are coordinated by a single entity, known as a multimodal transport operator or provider. The multimodal transport operator manages the overall logistics with a network of other carriers that handle the actual transport of shipments.  

Multimodal Shipment Process

Despite the many hands involved in the multimodal shipping process, it only requires one contract for the shipper. All of the subcontracts are handled by the multimodal transport operator. For businesses, this removes the burden of needing to communicate with multiple carriers and entities over the life of a single shipment. It also reduces the amount of paperwork, accounting, and other records keeping that using multiple carriers requires.  

Additionally, when goods are shipped multimodally, they are repackaged each time they change modes to reflect its best practices. For instance, a shipment might arrive at port, crossing the ocean in a shipping container, but it will be repackaged and moved to wrapped palettes for truck transport. 

What Is Intermodal Shipping? 

In many ways, multimodal shipping is a streamlined approach to intermodal shipping. Intermodal shipping also relies on multiple methods of transport. However, a crucial distinction between the two is that intermodal shipping requires shippers to coordinate with multiple carriers on their own, without a transport operator acting as liaison as opposed to multimodal freight transportation.1

Although intermodal shipping has its advantages—for example, it can be a less expensive process than multimodal shipping—it also has a few drawbacks. Having multiple contracts with multiple carriers does enable businesses to negotiate the best deals, but it also increases their administrative workload and leaves them responsible for managing shipping delays. In turn, businesses must re-coordinate with carriers at every step if they choose intermodal transport. 

Other drawbacks of the intermodal transportation method include:2

  • Longer delivery times
  • Delivery location restrictions
  • Blocking bracing requirements 

The Benefits of Multimodal Shipping

Multimodal shipping offers several benefits to businesses. Fundamentally, the most significant advantage is that it narrows the process down to a relationship between a business and a single freight transport operator. This streamlines everything and minimizes the amount of work a business has to put into a single shipment. 

The multimodal freight transport method comes with an array of other benefits as well. They include:1 

  • Simplified communications and logistics – With intermodal shipping, businesses must communicate and coordinate with several different carriers for single shipments. But multimodal shipping means you only have to communicate with the transport provider who coordinates all of the other carriers.
  • Carrier accountability – Similarly, multimodal shipping means the responsibility to manage and deliver shipments also falls to the transport coordinator. 
  • Tracking efficiency – Instead of relying on multiple carriers and their interfaces to track shipments, businesses that ship multimodally can track movements for the entire process through the transport operator.
  • Geographic accessibility – Because multimodal transportation operators work with such a vast network of partners, the method makes it possible for businesses to send freight to remote locations more easily and without relying on local carriers.
  • Improved delivery times – Multimodal transport operators are responsible for managing shipping delays in each leg of the journey, which makes the process more efficient and takes the burden off of businesses. 

Knowing the benefits of multimodal transportation can help you determine if this will help optimize and improve shipping process for your business.

Shipware: Innovative Solutions For Shippers

Smart and efficient shipping starts with finding the best eCommerce shipping solutions that work for you. Because parcel and volume shipping can be such a complicated process, smart businesses look for intelligent solutions that minimize errors, fine-tune processes, and boost their profits. Increasingly, those businesses are turning to one company: Shipware

Shipware delivers innovative solutions, strategies, and consulting services to parcel and volume LTL shippers. Our team of experienced and knowledgeable experts is prepared to take your shipping business to the next level with our comprehensive approach to streamlining your process. From carefully analyzing and auditing your current methods to customizing solutions that increase efficiency and save you money, we’re the company you can trust.

Whether you’re a start-up company or a long-time veteran who wants to make changes to how your business operates, Shipware is the solution you’ve been looking for. Find out more today. 



  1. Intermodal vs. Multimodal: What is the Difference?
  2. Wicker Park Logistics. Advantages and Disadvantages of Intermodal Freight.