What’s the Difference between Intermodal and Multimodal Freight? And Which One is Right for You?

There are a lot of terms to get used when you start sending goods overseas. And it can be hard to quantify which service can deliver the best value for money without creating unnecessary logistical headaches along the way. Two of the most commonly confused are intermodal and multimodal freight. So, what’s the difference between the two? And how do you know which option is right for your business?

Intermodal and Multimodal Freight: What’s the Difference?

What is intermodal freight?

Intermodal shipping is when your freight is handled by several different logistics companies through different parts of it journey. Each carrier will operate on an independent contract. And each transporter will work on a single leg of the journey.

As an example, you may choose to use a haulier to transport your goods to a port via road transport. Transfer your shipping containers to the care of a ferry operator. Then use a local haulier to transport your goods between the destination port and a rail freight operator. Then, finally, use a third road transport operator to carry your goods between the target rail station and their final destination.

As a business, you will be responsible for organising each of the contracts. And managing logistical issues caused by delays and other unforeseen problems. On the plus side, it can be a great way to reduce your shipping overheads. Especially if you have a head for admin and are good at spinning plates!

What is multimodal freight?

Multimodal freight is a similar process with one very significant difference. You have one contract with a single freight forwarder. Your goods still take the most cost-effective route through numerous modes of transport. But your freight forwarder takes care of the contracts, coordination, and pretty much everything else.

There are two ways that this service is run:

  • You can work with a logistics company that operates all the transport modes that you need.
  • Or you can work with an established freight forwarder with a strong network of transport partners, like Plexus Freight.

Either way, you can enjoy the benefits of lower cost cargo movement, without the logistical hangover.

Is intermodal or multimodal shipping best for my business?

There is no easy answer to that question. Every business is different, with varying priorities and needs.

If you are looking for the cheapest possible freight movement to Europe – and beyond – then intermodal shipping could be a good option for you. Particularly if you’ve got a dedicated team member to manage the logistics.

If your admin team is already overstretched, but you’re still looking for the best value shipping solution, multimodal freight presents excellent value. It’s the most economical managed service you’ll find.

Finding the right freight solution for your business can take time, and should always take research. The best advice that we can give is to consider all of your options before you sign on any dotted lines.


For friendly, professional advice on your shipping options, contact Plexus Freight today.

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