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Intermodal Transport and Drayage Operations Essay (Literature Review)

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Updated: Jun 9th, 2022


Intermodal transport is a concept that is increasingly being associated with the new developments of globalization and it basically constitutes making inherent advantages of road, rail, and inland water together with maritime transport (International Transport Forum and Organization for Economic Co-operation, 2009). Intermodal transport is perceived to originate from increasing problems of congestion, environmental concerns, and also issues of traffic safety (Patterson, Ewing and Haider, 2008). As intermodal transport becomes a celebrated concept in modern world, numerous challenges have been identified that characterize the concept. These challenges can be evidenced in aspects such as: cost, organization and planning, capital investment, performance, and the overall dynamic business environment.

Literature Review

Intermodal freight transport can be regarded to be a system that involves wide arrays of activities, actors and resources, technology and subsequent organizational complexity that shows how interdependence is rife in this sector. As such intermodal freight transport is seen to be affected and influenced by numerous factors that are either linked or divorced but act profoundly in influencing the overall performance in the intermodal freight transport. Review of articles concerning intermodal freight transport suggest that pertinent issues affecting the sector revolves around planning and include aspects of cost, technology, investment, adaptation and customer service.

Morlok and Spasovic (1994) observes that intermodal transport specifically one involving drayage face numerous issues of planning that are evident in service quality, pricing and cost, and lack of technology. Some of the paramount issues in this area include lack of efficient technology, increased traffic of intermodal services, increased labor cost, ineffective marketing structure, and asymmetry information sharing among the players (Some of the paramount issues in this area include lack of efficient technology, increased traffic of intermodal services, increased labor cost, ineffective marketing structure, and asymmetry information sharing among the players) These aspects have further resulted into reduced productivity in the intermodal transport (Morlok and Spasovic, 1994). Efficient planning that is accompanied by improvement in service quality and reduction of cost is seen to be necessary for drayage productivity to increase.

On his part Horn (1981) looks at factors of pricing, market research, acquisition of knowledge and how they affect the competitive nature in the intermodal freight transport. General observation made is that understanding the product and the pricing structure needs to originate from understanding of the wider competitive environment in which intermodal transport operators function. At the same time, establishing intermodal drayage costs currently is calculated dependent on distance (time) between the dispatch terminal and rail intermodal facility and this according to (Horn, 1981) is limited in the way that it does not capture the overall market situation, together with competitive environment.

The observation the authors establish with regard to development and operation of new intermodal service is that it should not just center on the availability of capital, technology and desire for improved productivity but aspects of the wider business environment and market needs should be evaluated and understood (Horn, 1981). This makes the author to consider knowledge and information as the key aspects that intermodal transport operators need to have in order to understand the industry properly. In concluding, the author’s position is that institutional impediments are responsible for retarded growth and operation in drayage since inadequate market research has been embraced. More so, the pricing structure is still ill-equipped and these factors are responsible for poor service and lack of growth in the sector (Horn, 1981).

Intermodal service improvement is the main area () investigates critically. The position of the author largely contradicts the popular position that service improvement of intermodal is key to increased productivity. The author advocates for parallel improvement of carload system and intermodal system but admit that intermodal system still supersede carload system in certain situations and circumstances (Montgomery, 1977). The observation made by the author is that, just like improved intermodal service, improved carload service can be constructed to have high service quality, less fragmented traffic flows, sophisticated management techniques and other related improvements (Montgomery, 1977). As much the author will want to propagate for this position, the overall observation at the end of his research work is that, improvements in intermodal service usually or exhibit potential to mitigate or eliminate some of the operating problems that in turn may increase carload terminal costs. In this way, the author remains confident that even with improvement of carload service, operating problems may not be eliminated, and the author finally agree to the fact that improved intermodal service appear to be more efficient as compared to improved carload service (Montgomery, 1977). Therefore, improved intermodal service is regarded to lead to reduction of costs and increase in productivity.

Intermodal transport system according to Claytor (1972) has to bring about aspects of customer satisfaction, reduced costs, improved efficiency and increased investment. This aspect can be perceived to lie in long-term strategies an intermodal service company may want to pursue. The aspect therefore advocate for total transportation aspect that majority of industry players saw as the opportunity to bring about new modes of competition, service improvement, satisfaction of customer needs and subsequently realization of increased productivity. Moreover, total transport can be seen to involve a coordinated long-term strategy that a company upon adopting has future prospects of success and growth.

Investigation of theories of intermodal transport within the wider perspective of transportation would suggest little conflict exist with regard to explaining aspects that intermodal transport should be characterized with. For example, as expressed by Morlok and Spasovic (1994), systems theory of intermodal transport advocates for independence of various actors, resources, environment and planning which Morlok and Spasovic (1994) captures very well in their evaluation. This is further reinforced by Horn (1981) who observes that intermodal freight service improvement rests on interdependence of various systems of resources, pricing, marketing, information and knowledge. Network approach of intermodal transport when perceived primarily may seem to conflict the systems theory especially when it perceives technology to be the paramount element in functionability of the organization. Nevertheless, this slight conflict is seen to be potentially swallowed by expression of independency of intermodal systems by majority of authors who subsequently agree that all the proper linkage of systems may result to efficient planning in the sector.


Organization and planning of drayage operations can be seen to have numerous problems of planning that has time factor. But as seen through the literature review, management teams in the intermodal transport sector can opt to different planning categories that have short-term, medium-term and long-term time framework. In each case, there is need to recognize the interdependence of aspects that characterize intermodal transport. Thereafter, appropriate consideration initiated will enable planning and operation in drayage operation to be improved with end results being; increased productivity, reduced costs and customer satisfaction.


Claytor, W. G. (1972). A Single intermodal transportation company. Transportation Journal, Vol. 11, No. 3, pp. 31-38. Web.

Horn, K. (1981). Pricing of retail intermodal service: A case study of institutional myopia. Transportation Journal, Vol. 20, No. 4, pp. 63-77. Web.

International Transport Forum and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2009). Paris: OECD Publishing. Web.

Montgomery, A. J. (1977). The role of international service in improving railroad productivity. Transportation Journal, Vol. 16, No. 4, pp. 46-53. Web.

Morlok, E. K., & Spasovic, L. N. (1994). NJ: New Jersey Institute of Technology. Web.

Patterson, Z., Ewing, G. O., & Haider, M. (2008). The potential for premium-intermodal services to reduce freight CO2 emissions in the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor. Transportation Research Part D, Vol. 13, pp. 1-9. Web.

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