What does intermodal transportation mean?

In this article we dive deeper into the term intermodal transportation. What does intermodal transportation mean, and how does it work? The two associated terms intermodality and combined transport – what do they mean? We answer and explain.

Two associated terms: intermodality and combined transport


Let’s begin with the closely connected term, intermodality, which is a common term in the transport sector.

  • Intermodality: inter + module = between + unit
  • The term intermodality most frequently appears in conversations about various technologies for the transportation of goods.

Briefly summarized, intermodality is an exact description of the meaning of intermodal transportation, meaning a switch between various units (modules) which makes transport from one place to another possible.

Combined transport

The second term, combined transport, is also commonly used in this context, and is best described as simply another term for intermodal transportation.

  • The term combined transportation is used to describe the combination of different modes of transport, like train, airplane and by sea.

Examples of when both terms apply:

In a steadily growing e-commerce industry, more consumers are shopping online than ever before, both domestically and outside of Sweden. It’s the international trade that has grown the most, which increases the need for intermodal transportation. In other words, combined transportation.

How intermodal transportation works

Because the handling of transported goods goes through many stages related to intermodal transportation, it’s good to understand how it all works.

The first point might seem obvious: different types of goods require different types of units (modules). A certain type of goods can best be transported by trailer or container, while another is better transported in a truck or cassette. Regardless, the goods must be transported by train, ship, airplane or vehicle.

For long transports it’s common that the goods are reloaded, which can happen both once and twice. Typically, this is done at a so-called combined terminal which is adapted to make the switch between various modes of transport easier.

At the terminal the goods are moved between different modules to continue its intermodal journey. In the end, it’s all about creating sustainable logistics.

The advantages of intermodal transportation

A commonly viewed advantage of intermodal transportation is that the goods rarely require handling, since it’s the modules and not the contents that is managed during reloading.

There’s also an aspect of intermodal transportation that can be viewed as both an advantage and a disadvantage depending on how it’s managed. It’s about something as important as Supply Chain Management. With an experienced manager (Supply Chain Manager) the entire chain of transports can move forward without issues. But it can also become an issue if it’s managed by a less knowledgeable person who isn’t as experienced in SCM.

A simple way to get an overview of the transportation chain is to connect your company’s e-commerce store to PostNord’s shipping system, using our integration solutions.

Learn more about transportation

Do you want to improve your knowledge about modes of transport – or logistics in general? You’ll find more articles and information on our main page for logistics.

Frequently asked questions about intermodal transportation

Is there a difference between combined transport and intermodal transport?

The term combined transport is just another term for intermodal transport. Both are about various technologies for the transportation of goods.

Does PostNord offer services related to intermodal transportation?

PostNord offers several services to make management and transportation of goods easier. You’ll find more information in PostNord Portal Business.

How and by who is goods managed during intermodal transportation?

The reloading of goods takes place at so-called combined terminals, where the modules that the goods are shipped via are handled by competent staff.