What Is an Intermodal Container and What are They Used For?


Businesses thrive by swiftly and reliably moving goods in today’s fast-paced global market. That’s their key to success. As companies expand, the need for adaptable and trustworthy shipping methods becomes non-negotiable.

One game-changer in the shipping world is the intermodal container. It’s also known as an ISO container or a shipping container. These containers play a pivotal role in facilitating seamless global trade. This is due to their ability to transport goods on various transportation networks. This article delves into the qualities of these containers. It also explores the ways they improve transportation. Keep reading to join us on this journey through intermodal containers.

Understanding Intermodal Containers

An intermodal container is a standardized shipping container. Its design makes for easy transportation between different modes like ships, trains, and trucks. These containers have revolutionized the shipping industry, making transportation more efficient, cost-effective, and reliable. The key features of intermodal containers include the following:

Standardized Sizes

They follow specific sizes the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) sets. This ensures they’re all the same size and shape. These rules make it easy to use them across different transport modes without causing any disruption to the cargo.


Manufacturers make them from robust materials such as steel and aluminum. This means that they can endure the harsh conditions of long-distance transportation. They withstand weather and stacking, and they handle challenges with resilience.


They are stackable, both when empty and loaded. This feature improves the use of space on ships and at transportation hubs.


Adapting them to meet specific cargo requirements is possible. This modularity allows for the transportation of a wide range of goods. This can include anything from perishable items to heavy machinery.

Visibility and Tracking

Many intermodal containers have tracking devices. Features like GPS give instant updates on the cargo’s status and location. This feature enhances logistics management and allows for proactive problem-solving.

Standard Containers

Intermodal containers offer various sizes and types to suit diverse shipping needs. The two primary sizes are:

  • 20 feet (6.1 meters) in width
  • 40 feet (12.2 meters) in length

This provides standard options for transporting goods. These sizes accommodate different volumes of cargo, catering to varying shipment requirements.

Specialized Containers

These shipping containers are designed to meet dimensions that differ from the standard sizes. Refrigerated containers are made to transport goods within specific temperature ranges. They are used to transport perishables.
Open-top containers with a tarpaulin-covered open top are another type of specialized container. This feature allows for the transportation of extra large and high cargo. Certain companies provide tailored modifications, such as:

  • Extra doors
  • Windows
  • Insulation
  • Shelving to meet specific needs

High-cube containers are taller than standard ones. This offers more vertical storage space for stackable items. Flat rack containers are designed for large or heavy cargo. They have collapsible sides that make loading and unloading large items easier.

Tank containers are explicitly used for transporting liquids. This includes chemicals, food-grade products, or other bulk liquids. Side-opening containers also allow for easier access when loading and unloading. Double-door containers have doors on both ends. This facilitates access to the container’s entire length.

Offshore containers are designed for offshore use. They often transport goods to oil rigs and similar locations. Mini containers are smaller than standard ones. While small, they’re still available in different sizes. They are often used for local or short-distance transportation.

Benefits of an Intermodal Container

Intermodal containers save money in shipping. Their standard sizes make better use of space on ships, trains, and trucks, moving more goods at once. This saves fuel and lowers shipping costs, helping businesses and consumers.

They are robust, ensuring cargo stays secure and safe. Built for long-distance travel, they shield goods from the elements. Standardized locks add security, minimizing theft or tampering risks during transit.

These containers speed up shipping. Seamless transitions between transport modes remove the need for constant repackaging, reducing delays. This time efficiency is crucial in today’s fast-paced global market.

Using this way of transportation is good for the environment. It saves energy through the efficient use of cargo space. This means of transportation results in fewer trips, which lowers pollution.

This fits well with the current focus on being green and sustainable in business.

Intermodal Equipment

Intermodal equipment refers to types of machinery designed for use in intermodal transportation.

An intermodal chassis is a framework with wheels and a locking mechanism. It is specifically designed to support and transport intermodal containers.

Intermodal tractors are also important. These specialized trucks or tractors move intermodal containers within terminals and yards. Railcars are also used for carrying intermodal containers on trains.

Handling equipment, such as cranes and reach stackers, load and unload containers onto trucks, trains, and ships.

Transportation Options for Intermodal Containers

Here are the standard transportation options available for intermodal containers:

  • Truck transportation
  • Rail transportation
  • Container trains
  • Ship transportation
  • Ocean freight
  • Air transportation
  • Barge transportation

The transportation mode depends on factors such as:

  • Distance of the journey
  • Type of cargo
  • Cost considerations
  • Time constraints

Intermodal transportation provides flexibility and efficiency in moving goods across various regions. This is because the cargo stays in the same container during the entire journey. With this process, only the mode of transport changes.

Choosing Intermodal Containers for Business Shipping

Choosing a suitable shipping container is vital for global trade and transportation companies. Picking intermodal containers provides a competitive edge. This ensures a reliable and efficient method to ship goods worldwide.

These containers simplify global connections by quickly moving between different transportation platforms. You can customize specialized containers based on your specific needs. In a changing supply chain, intermodal containers provide strategic flexibility.

Businesses can now deal with changes in demand and routes. This is possible because their chosen containers switch between different transportation methods. Gone are the days when you’re limited based on your container.

The Intermodal Revolution: Streamlining Global Logistics

Intermodal container use has changed and shaped global logistics. Their unique features provide a standardized and effective solution for multimodal transportation.

If you need an ISO container, look no further than Norcal Containers. We are leading shipping container suppliers in California, Oregon, and NevadaContact us for a quote for all your new and used container solutions today.

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