What's the difference between intermodal and multimodal? I've been reading a lot and it almost seems like the two are interchangable?
Good question, Susan.
Both multimodal and intermodal are methods of moving goods and products that use more than one method of transportation. For example: truck > ship > train.
Intermodal freight means that to (container/pallet/cargo) requires individual documentation for each method of transport (or mode). Multimodal, on the other hand, only requires one set of documentation to get it from the origination point to the destination.
A good example of intermodal transporation is a container of plastic widgets going from China to the United States. One party, most times the manufaturer, will arrange a truck to carry the widgets to the port. When they arrive at the port and are inspected, the trucking company passes responsibility of the goods on to the shipping company. The shipping company then moves the widgets to America, where they become the responsibility of another trucking or rail company.
With multimodal transportation one company would be responsible for the widgets from door step to door step. This would most likely happen in the US when goods are made domestically and shipped to another part of the country by train, truck, or ship.
Multimodal transport (also known as combined transport) is the transportation of goods under a single contract, but performed with at least two different means of transport; the carrier is liable (in a legal sense) for the entire carriage, even though it is performed by several different modes of transport (by rail, sea and road, for example). The carrier does not have to possess all the means of transport, and in practice usually does not; the carriage is often performed by sub-carriers (referred to in legal language as "actual carriers"). The carrier responsible for the entire carriage is referred to as a multimodal transport operator, or MTO.