Source: Rodrigue, J-P and T. Notteboom (2009) “The Terminalization of Supply Chains: Reassessing the Role of Terminals in Port / Hinterland Logistical Relationships”, Maritime Policy and Management, Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 165-183.
Due to congestion, capacity and availability of inland transportation, containerization contributed to a modal separation at terminals and the setting of a significant buffer in the form of large storage areas. Each transport mode received a specific area on the terminal, so that operations on vessels, barges, trucks and trains could not obstruct one another. This modal separation in space was a requirement for setting up a system of indirect transshipment whereby each transport mode follows its own time schedule and operational throughput, implying a modal separation in time. Since rail, road or barge modes have completely different operational characteristics, namely capacity and sequence, a large buffer is required within the terminal’s facilities.
Under the indirect transshipment system, the terminal stacking area functions as a buffer and temporary storage area between the deepsea operations and the land transport operations that take place later in the process. As a consequence, and in spite of higher turnover levels, the space consumed by container terminals increased substantially. In turn, these space requirements changed the geography of ports and the migration of terminals to new peripheral sites. The push towards economies of scale in maritime shipping has further expanded the space requirements at terminals with a larger asymmetry between the average maritime loads and the average loads carried by inland transport systems.
The synchronization between elements of the intermodal terminal varies according to the geographical setting and its related inbound or outbound logistics. For instance, the export-oriented manufacturing clusters of China are adjacent to major port terminal facilities and the bulk of containerized exports arrive by truck. The assembly of container shipping loads for exports brought in by trucks thus requires a large amount of terminal storage space. In North America, many port terminals have access to double-stack rail corridors with inland terminals enabling a higher turnover volume that proportionally reduces pressures on port terminal facilities to relocate them inland where land is much less scarce. A similar situation applies to Western Europe, but with barge services linking main gateways to inland terminals in addition to single stack rail services.