Intermodal vs Multimodal transport: what’s the difference?

When planning to move goods from one place to another, you’ll often encounter two terms: Intermodal and Multimodal transport. Both intermodal and multimodal relate to using different modes of transport for a shipment, but there are some key differences between each of them.

At rouvia, we are experts in both but specialize in multimodal transportation to guarantee visibility, sustainability, and the best rate for freight forwarders. Let’s understand how you can achieve that.

This article covers:

  • What these terms mean
  • What makes them different
  • What makes them unique
  • What benefits one gets from using one over the other and more

What Happens in Multimodal Transport?

In multimodal transport, the movement of cargo is done through any combination of two different modes, but what makes it special is – it’s done under a single bill of lading, or similar contract. Meaning, a single transportation company completes the full shipment and takes full responsibility for doing it all.

There’ll be one contract, and one company will complete the whole delivery from the origin to the destination.

What is Intermodal Transport?

Unlike multimodal transport, in intermodal transport, every part of the shipment is done by a different provider. Each company has its own bill of lading and is responsible for only its part of the delivery process.

Also, for intermodal transport, you use a combination of truck and rail to complete the end-to-end shipment - another difference from Multimodal.

The cargo switches multiple hands, which can create flexibility.

Differences Between Multimodal and Intermodal Transport

So how are multimodal and intermodal transports different from each other? Freedom, responsibility, and some other factors come in.

Bill of Lading

A bill of lading is an essential document required when transferring cargo overseas. It contains information about the sender, the carrier, and the items being shipped.

When you use multimodal transport, there’s only one contract with the company, meanwhile, intermodal transport requires bills of lading with every company involved in the chain. This results in extra pressure on logistics.

Delay and Overhead

If you’re using intermodal transport, it’s your job to deal with and coordinate with delays while transporting the goods. This means if your ship is late to reach the port, you’ll have to adjust the next part of the trip.

While using multimodal transport, the contractor is responsible for coordinating the delays between different modes of transportation while shipping. They’ll offer you a one-stop service, giving you peace of mind.

Combination of transport modes

As mentioned before, an important difference when comparing Intermodal vs. Multimodal is the combination of transports. In Multimodal, your provider has to guarantee the best combination between any two modes of transportation possible to ensure cost, visibility, and delivery time.

With Intermodal you can achieve the same success, but with reduced possibilities, since you’ll be using truck + rail.


Since you have to set up a contract for every transportation you use, the overall cost can become quite high while using intermodal transport. However, you get the option to bargain in every part of the process to reduce the cost.

The setting up cost for multimodal transport can be high, however, it can be cost-efficient when you consider it as a package.


Since intermodal transport allows you to choose your company for each part of the delivery process, you can choose one to your liking. Suppose your company wants to choose a green option, you can do that in intermodal transport. Or you can send it by air for express delivery to fill up for a delay.

In multimodal transport, you can only choose models provided by your contractor. Resulting in less flexibility.


Multimodal transport typically has lower insurance costs than intermodal transport. This is because multimodal transport generally involves fewer transfers, so there’s less risk of damage during transit. You can get a single umbrella insurance that covers your whole process.

On the other hand, intermodal transport typically has higher insurance costs than multimodal transport. This happens because of the higher risks involved in more transfers – and thus, more risk of damage during transit.

Advantages of Multimodal and Intermodal Transport:

The advantages of multimodal transportation:

  • Efficient Tracking: Thanks to a single company doing the delivery, you can get more accurate location updates of your cargo.
  • Increased Coverage: Using contractors results in faster delivery and better coverage. And this is possible at practically no permanent cost.
  • Fewer Logistics: Having only one contract reduces the hassle and is more practical.

The advantages of intermodal transportation are:

  • Better Negotiations: Having multiple carriers results in more opportunities to reduce costs in the chain.
  • Flexibility: Multiple points give you more flexibility while choosing options, and you can stop the delivery at any point.

Disadvantages of Multimodal and Intermodal Transport:

The disadvantages of multimodal transportation:

  • Lack of Negotiations: You don’t get many options to negotiate while buying a package. Depending on your provider, this can cause the costs to jump.

The disadvantages of Intermodal transportation:

  • More Logistics: Because there are so many points, it requires a lot of logistics coordination and communication, which can result in more operational work for your team.
  • Lack of Coordination: It’s harder to deal with delays because of unrelated companies making the shipments.

Closing Thoughts

Want more flexibility when choosing, or would you rather just choose one package to be done with it?

When freight forwarding, you can choose different modes of transportation depending on your shipment situation, timeframe, CO2 footprint, routes, and carriers. Our platform and transport experts are ready to help you make the best decision, get started now.

Mehedi Hasan
Logistics content writer
October 28, 2022

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