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History of Multimodal

Transportation across various world destinations has undergone several developments and revolutions. Notably the transportation of goods overseas has been characterized by developments which culminated in the multimodal transport in the 1970s. Multimodal transport, sometimes referred to as combined transport, is a transport system usually operated by one carrier with more than one mode of transport under the control or ownership of one operator. The different modes of transport used are sea, rail, air and road which are not always used at the same time, but as need calls for their use. In the multimode transport system, cargo is carried as one unit without having to be broken or taken out of their container at various terminals (Beuthe, 2004).

In this type of transport the responsibility for all transport activities is put under one operator or carrier who manages and coordinates the total task from the shipper’s door to the consignee’s door, ensuring a continuous movement of the goods. The operator/carrier ensures that the goods move along the best route, incur the most cost-effective means of transport and meet the shipper’s requirements of delivery. This door to door movement of goods linked to the container technology and to multimodal transport has been helpful in facilitating growing international trade since trade and transport industries are inextricably linked. According to Beuthe (2004), the carrier in question does not have to be in possession of all the means of transport, but on make use of different sub-carrier with the means who are the actual carriers.


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The multimodal transport has several advantages to users, chief being that it ensures a safe and efficient movement of goods brought about by a good communication system, proper documentation and a continuous transit of goods from one destination to another. It reduces the burden of documentation because once cargo is documented for at the initial point of transport, the cargo will not be offloaded from containers at any other terminal until it reaches the consignee. Multimodal transport has also proved to be cost effective for both the sender and the receiver of goods as well as minimizing time loss, risk loss and damage of cargo. The fact that only one carrier and his agency deals with the transit of a particular cargo means that in case that cargo is lost or delayed, it will be easier to work with the single agency for its follow-up (Hariharan, 1997).

For the success of multimodal transport, certain important things should be considered. First the commercial practices in a place or country are important in determining the obligations of buyers and sellers, senders and receivers. Secondly, administration requirements such as documentation procedures and custom duties should be considered before transits are conducted. Thirdly, the transport infrastructure of a place is an important determinant of the ability to transport huge cargo as entailed in container handling and transporting (Stone & Carr, 2005).

The challenges posed to the multimodal transport system is that some countries, especially developing countries are challenged in terms of the logistics and infrastructure for effective transportation as well as in the required legal systems to harmonize the transport system in view of new forms of international transport systems that are emerging.

The utilization of multiple forms of transport means dates back to the 1960s and 1970s when containerization come into place. This followed after a prior unimodal mode of transport where goods took a long time to reach their destination, with frequent loss of goods along the way. The first invention of containerization was the freight container which dates back to the Roman times, but the transportation of containers on rail was introduced by the Liverpool and Manchester railway (Stone & Carr, 2005). These containers could be rolled on and rolled off the rail, for the purpose of hauling coal in 1830’s. The next development was introduced by Birmingham and Derby Railway where transfer of containers took place between rail wagons and horse carriages in 1839, introducing an element of multimodal transport. On March, 19, 1921, the New York Central Railway introduced container services from Cleveland to Chicago and from this time on, container services expanded on a means of door to door transport, giving way to the piggy back system where trailers were carried aboard specialized what was known as “flat cars” (Beuthe, 2004).

The entire container revolution was initiated in the late 1950’s by Mr. Makom Maclean. Due to his experience in trucking operations where he had been a former executive of a trucking company, and the knowledge had gained about road and trail transport, he introduced sea transport. He facilitated the input of devices on containers that would make it easy for them to be switched between different modes of transport. He also facilitated that ships be equipped with certain rail structures in known as cell – guides that would facilitate vertical sliding of containers into the ships for transport (Beuthe, 2004).

The massive growth in container use since then has shifted the cargo delivery system from the historical ‘port to port’ to “door to door”. But multimodal transportation is not a recent invention since any consignment coming from overseas and destined inland has always required different modes of transport including airplanes, ships, rail cars and trucks. What is different from the historical approach of multimodal transportation is that bulk goods can now be transported in containers without having to be taken out of the containers (Stone & Carr, 2005). The transit of goods after being loaded at the place of origin takes place without interruption and under one transport document. Consequently, this has not only shortened the time for delivery but has also ensured that cargo reaches its destination safely.

As mentioned earlier, multimodal transporting has undergone development in shifting from “port to port” services to ‘door to door’ services. This has led to the expansion of trade interactions between different countries and opening up of new trade territories. Of importance was the governmental deregulation of the use of different modes of transport in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. This enabled the different forms of transport means to work together and coordinate their operations in meaningful and innovative ways. The removal of transport restrictions and the privatization of state owned transport enterprises in various parts of the world in the late 1980s enabled transport industries to come up with their own flexible regulations for efficient transportation (Hoeks, 2010).

The innovation of containerization is probably the most significant development in the history of multimodal transporting. Due to its ability to transport huge cargo, use of containers has become the largest form of unitization. Only ‘out of gauge’ cargo cannot be transported using containers. Recent developments in the use of containers have seen more focus being laid on the organizing the transport industry by synchronizing all the different forms of transport in a multimodal system, into one integrated system that is intensive and well-coordinated. Containerisation has greatly revolutionized the manner in which transportation overseas was conducted. Through the innovation of containerisation the transportation of cargo overseas has been greatly improved (Beuthe, 2004).

Multimodal transport, through the fact that it is coordinated through on a single operator, has been responsible for minimizing the delays and losses in the haulage of cargo. The fact that the single multimodal transport operator handles the cargo’s transport solely through stabling and maintaining communication systems plays into ensuring efficiency in the transportation. Establishment of communication links ensures that cargo is secure especially at transit points (Stone & Carr, 2005).

Multimodal transport has been a great relief to international traders who would have their cargo delivered faster to any part of the world. This is achieved by the fact that the interconnectedness in multimodal transport ensures smooth flow of cargo across diverse locations (Hoeks, 2010). Another feature of multimodal transportation is the reduction in the burden of formalities and documentation. When goods are handled my minimal transport agencies the consignor will have less documentation requirement to meet. Multimodal transportation has been characterized by the dealing with a single agency. This is good news for the consignor who would have an easier way out especially when dealing with matters like the settling matters pertaining to claims on loss or damage of cargo.

The developments of multimodal transportation have been initiated by the knowledge on the organizing of the transportation of cargo by multimodal transport operators. These operators are also conversant with information on current affairs in the area of infrastructural development, technology and the political climates of various countries (Wit, 1995). Through this informational multimodal transport operators are able to make effective arrangements with road truckers, railways, shipping lines and airlines. This goes a long way in facilitating faster transportation of goods from the origin to their destinations.

The multimodal transport system has moved its interest from being primarily a transport provider, to encompass ways of profit making. The different transporting companies involved have polished up their services to appeal to users in quality management of cargo, time efficiency and cost effectiveness. This is done in order to achieve the competitive or comprehensive advantage over other transporting companies (Wit, 1995).

In the past, multimodal transporting has been cluttered by so many rules and regulations that necessitated the signing of many transport documents. These regulations stem from international trade requirements. However from 1980, the United Nations Trade Facilitation Programme has been standardizing and simplifying documentation and trade procedures through regional and network facilitation organization (Hoeks, 2010). This has seen transport rules and regulation being minimized by simplification of procedures and reduction number of documents to be signed. Documents are also expected to be identical in all parts of a country and must be aligned to similar procedures and documents in other countries. Harmony of transport statistics is achieved through the use of the computers to sort out electronic data (Hensher, Button & Brewer, 2001).

Since the trade and transport industries are intertwined, the impact of customs department on multimodal transporting has brought a lot of inconveniences in the multimodal transport system. Previously customs were complex and exacted high duty rates prior to entry of goods. Personnel of the customs department were poorly trained and low-skilled, and the result was a high cost on government taxes and poor facilitation. Since the different conventions on customs regarding containerization of 1972, simplification and harmonization of custom procedures of 1973, multimodal transport convention of 1980, and the container pool convention of 1994, custom duties were lowered, and procedures shortened. This has had a positive impact on the efficiency of the multi-modal transport system (Wit, 1995).

In order to be effective and competitive in providing multimodal transport services, multimodal transport operators/carriers have found themselves being more interested with the logistics and supply chain management system. For other transport companies, they have had to employ outsider logistics services providers as in when liner companies become port operators and providers of “door to door” services. The development of logistical supply management has not only improved “door to door” service provision, but also increased the share of air transportation as in the United Arab Emirates, Port of Dubai, and the Malaysian Port of Tanjungpelepas (Hensher, Button & Brewer, 2001).

Multimodal transportation marks ones of the greatest developments in transportation. Multimodal transporting has undergone a lot of developments since its historical conception. Starting from a simple rail and road transporting system, it has now expanded to shipping and aero plane services and interacted closely with the trade and commerce industries. Containerization, an element in multimodal transporting, has become the largest form of initialization, carrying huge cargo, with the exception of only those that are out of gauge. Despite infrastructural challenges and lack of legal provisions to govern the transport industry in some countries, multimodal transporting has continued to be effective in the quality management and safe transportation of cargo.

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