Inland Container Depot – ICD – Container Freight Station – CFS – Dry Port – Distriparks – Customs Bonded Warehouse

April 19, 2009

The globalization of business has had a tremendous impact on the way companies operate today. The scope of globalization runs the gamut from foreign purchasing of raw materials and supplies and selective sales in international markets with extensive use of intermediaries, to multifaceted international manufacturing and marketing strategies encompassing international production sites, multiple staging of inventory, and counter-trading product sales. The growing international dimension of both the inbound and outbound portions of supply chains has had, and will continue to have, a major impact upon the logistics system and transportation requirements of companies. In particular, transport demand requires efficient integrated moves, premium package services, and making the best use of available modal transport operations and international distribution centers. Thus, the role of international distribution centers as home bases for merchandise transportation and distribution has become increasingly important.

A distribution center has been defined as “a warehouse of finished goods; also applied to the facility from which wholesale and retail orders may be filled; a materials warehouse would also be a distribution center for buyers of its stock” (Cavinato 1989). It provides a number of service attributes to shippers, such as storage, cargo tracking, inland transport service, customs clearance service, consolidation, packaging, labeling, assembly, and documentation services. Some of these attributes can be expected to be more important than others to customers, and not all customers will attach the same importance to any particular attribute. To develop a distribution center service responsive to customer needs, it is necessary to determine the individual importance of service attributes.


Intermodal freight transport involves the transportation of freight in a container or vehicle, using multiple modes of transportation (rail, ship, and truck), without any handling of the freight itself when changing modes. The method reduces cargo handling, and so improves security, may reduce damages and loss, and may allow freight to be transported faster. Reduced costs versus over road trucking is the key benefit for intracontinental use.




Intermodal transportation goes back to the 18th century and predates the railways. Some of the earliest containers were those used for coal shipping on the Bridgewater Canal in England in the 1780s. Coal containers (called ‘loose boxes’) were soon deployed on the early railways and used for road/rail transfers (road at the time being horse drawn).

Examples of wooden coal containers being used on railways go back to the 1830s on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. In 1841 Isambard Kingdom Brunel introduced iron containers to move coal from the vale of Neath to Swansea Docks. By the outbreak of the First World War the Great Eastern Railway was using wooden containers to trans-ship passenger luggage between trains and sailings via the port of Harwich.

The early 1900s saw the first adoption of covered containers, primarily for the movement of furniture and intermodal between road and rail. A lack of standards limited the value of this service and this in turn drove standardisation. In the USA such containers, known as “lift vans’, were in use from early as 1911.


An intermodal train carrying both shipping containers and highway semi-trailers in “piggyback” service, on flatcars, passes through the Cajon Pass in February, 1995.

In the United Kingdom containers were first standardised by the Railway Clearing House (RCH) in the 1920s, allowing both railway owned and privately owned vehicles to be carried on standard container flats. By modern standards these containers were small being five or ten foot long, normally wooden and with a curved roof and insufficient internal strength to stack. From 1928 the London, Midland and Scottish Railway offered ‘door to door’ intermodal road-rail services using these containers. This standard however failed to take off outside the United Kingdom.

Pallets made their first major appearance during World War II, when the United States military assembled freight on pallets, allowing fast transfer between warehouses, trucks, trains, ships, and aircraft. Because no freight handling was required, fewer personnel were required and loading times were decreased.

Truck trailers were first carried by railway before World War II, an arrangement often called “piggyback”, by the small Class I railroad, the Chicago Great Western in 1936. The Canadian Pacific Railway was a pioneer in piggyback transport, becoming the first major North American railway to introduce the service in 1952. In the United Kingdom the big four railway companies offered services using standard RCH containers which could be craned on and off the back of trucks. Moving companies such as Pickfords offered private services in the same way.

Stack of shipping containers

It was not until the 1950s that containers started to revolutionize freight transportation. The United States Department of Defense produced specifications for standard containers for military use of 8-foot (2.4 m) by 8-foot (2.4 m) square cross section in units of ten foot long. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) issued standards based upon the US Department of Defense standards between 1968 and 1970, ensuring interchangeability between different modes of transportation worldwide. These rectangular stackable containers became known as ISO containers for this reason.

One pioneering railway was the White Pass and Yukon Route, which acquired the world’s first container ship, the Clifford J. Rogers, built in 1955, and introduced containers to its railway in 1956. In the United Kingdom the modernisation plan and in turn the Beeching Report strongly pushed containerisation. The British Railways freightliner service was launched carrying 8′ high pre-ISO containers. The older wooden containers and the pre-ISO containers were rapidly obsoleted by ten foot and twenty foot ISO standard containers, and as time went on by forty foot containers and larger.

In the United States of America, starting in the 1960s the use of containers increased steadily, with rail intermodal traffic tripling between 1980 and 2002 according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), from 3.1 million trailers and containers to 9.3 million. Large investments were made in intermodal freight projects. An example was the $740,000,000 Port of Oakland intermodal rail facility begun in the late 1980s.[1][2]

Double-stacked container transport

Intermodal ship-to-rail transfer of containerized cargos at the Port in Long Beach, California.

Since 1984, a mechanism for intermodal shipping known as double-stack rail transport has become increasingly common. Rising to the rate of nearly 70% of United States intermodal shipments, it transports more than one million containers per year. The double-stack rail car’s unique design also significantly reduced damage in transit, and provided greater cargo security by cradling the lower containers so their doors cannot be opened. And a succession of large, new domestic container sizes was introduced to increase shipping productivity for customers. In Europe the more restricted loading gauge has limited the adoption of double-stack cars. However, in 2007 construction the Betuweroute was finished, a railway from Rotterdam to the German industrial heartland, which allows for double stacked containers.

Other countries, like New Zealand, have numerous low tunnels and bridges, limiting expansion due to economical reasons.



Containers at Kuantan Port

Containers being transported by rail in the UK, passing Northampton on the February 18, 2008.

For more detail see the article Containerisation

Containers, also known as intermodal containers or as ISO containers because the dimensions have been defined by the ISO, are the main type of equipment used in intermodal transport, particularly when one of the modes of transportation is by ship. Containers are eight feet (2438 mm) wide by eight feet (2438 mm) high. Since introduction, there have been moves to adopt other heights, such as eight feet six inches (2591 mm), nine feet six inches (2896 mm) and ten feet six inches (3200 mm). The most common lengths are 20 feet (6096 mm) nominal or 19 feet (5.8 m) – 10½ in (6058 mm) actual, 40 feet (12192 mm), 48 feet (14630 mm) and 53 feet (16154 mm), although other lengths exist. They are made out of steel and can be stacked on top of each other (a popular term for a two-high stack is “double stack”).

ISO-code and dimension/load table at several newly washed containers

On ships they are typically stacked up to seven units high. They can be carried by truck, rail, container ship, or aeroplane. When carried by rail, containers can be loaded on flatcars or in container well cars. In Europe, stricter railway height restrictions (smaller loading gauge and structure gauge) and overhead electrification prohibit containers from being stacked two high, and containers are hauled one high either on standard flatcars or other railroad cars. Taller containers are often carried in well cars single stacked on older European railway routes where the loading gauge is particularly small.

Some variations on the standard container exist. Open-topped versions covered by a fabric curtain are used to transport larger loads. A container called a tanktainer, consisting of a tank fitted inside a standard container frame, allows liquids to be carried. Refrigerated containers are used for perishables. There is also the swap body, which is typically used for road and rail transport, as they are built too lightly to be stacked. They have folding legs under their frame so that they can be moved between trucks without using a crane.

Various non-standard container forms are commonly used. These include non-stackable open box containers, and several slightly non standard geometries. European containers are often about two inches wider than the ISO standard although otherwise conformant, which can carry the euro-pallet standard pallet load. Specialised containers used in Europe include containerised coal carriers, and recently ‘bin-liners’ – containers designed for the efficient road/rail transportation of rubbish from cities to recycling and dump sites.

Truck trailers are often used, in countries where the loading gauge is sufficient, for freight that is transported primarily by road and rail. Typically, regular semi-trailers can be used, and do not need to be specially designed.

Handling equipment

Straddle Carriers at work at the Port of Melbourne, Australia

Handling equipment can be designed with intermodality in mind, assisting with transferring containers between rail, road and sea. These can include:

  • Transtainers for transferring containers from sea-going vessels onto either trucks or rail wagons. A transtainer is mounted on rails with a large boom spanning the distance between the ship’s cargo hold and the quay, moving parallel to the ship’s side.[3]
  • Gantry cranes also known as a straddle carrier which is able to straddle rail and road vehicles allowing for quick transfer of containers. A spreader beam moves in several directions allowing accurate positioning of the cargo.[3]
  • Grappler Lift which is very similar to a straddle carrier
  • Reach Stackers are fitted with lifting arms as well as spreader beams and lifts containers to swap bodies or stack containers on top of each other.[3]


Intermodal Vehicles

Rail Transport

A portion of a “double stack” container train operated by Union Pacific Railroad, the containers are owned by Pacer Stacktrain.

In North America, containers are often shipped by rail in container well cars. These cars resemble flatcars but the newer ones have a container-sized depression, or well, in the middle (between the bogies or “trucks”) of the car. This depression allows for sufficient clearance to allow two containers to be loaded in the car in a “double stack” arrangement. The newer container cars also are specifically built as a small articulated “unit”, most commonly in components of three or five, whereby two components are connected by a single bogie as opposed to two bogies, one on each car. (The photo above under “Equipment” shows an example of the new setup.) Double stacking is also used in parts of Australia. On some older railways, particularly in the United Kingdom, the use of well cars is necessary to carry single stacked large containers within the loading gauge.

It is also common in North America to transport semi-trailers on railway flatcars or spine cars, an arrangement called “piggyback” or TOFC (trailer on flatcar) to distinguish it from container on flatcar (COFC). Some flatcars are designed with collapsable trailer hitches so they can be used for trailer or container service.[4] Such designs allow trailers to be rolled on from one end, though lifting trailers on and off flatcars by specialized loaders is more common. TOFC terminals typically have large areas for storing trailers pending loading or pickup. Example.

A newer method of transporting trailers, the RoadRailer, has been developed by Wabash National. When the trailers are transported on rail, railway wheel assemblies are placed between the trailers, in effect turning the trailers into one large articulated railway car. This method is faster than loading trailers on flatcars and requires no extra railway cars, but they need to be specially designed (strengthened) to withstand the forces of being carried in a train of up to 150 trailers. One of the most well known operators of RoadRailers in the United States is Triple Crown Services, a subsidiary of Norfolk Southern Railway. Triple Crown operates a fleet of over 6500 Roadrailers and serves 14 terminals in the eastern half of the country.[5]

Container ships

The 300-meter-long container ship CMA CGM Balzac

Container ships are used to transport containers by sea. These vessels are custom-built to hold containers. Some vessels can hold thousands of containers. Their capacity is often measured in TEU or FEU. These initials stand for “twenty-foot equivalent unit,” and “forty-foot equivalent unit,” respectively. For example, a vessel that can hold 1,000 40-foot containers or 2,000 20-foot containers can be said to have a capacity of 2,000 TEU. In the year 2005, the largest container ships in regular operation are registered to carry in excess of 8,000 TEU.

A key consideration in the size of container ships is that larger ships exceed the capacity of important sea routes such as the Panama and Suez canals. The largest size of container ship able to traverse the Panama canal is referred to as Panamax, which is presently around 5,000 TEU. A third set of locks is planned as part of the Panama Canal expansion project to accommodate container ships up to 12,000 TEU in future, comparable to the present Suezmax.

It costs about $8000 to ship a container from East Asia to North America when oil is at $100/barrel. As the price of oil increases, shipping costs increase.

Very large container ships also require specialized deepwater terminals. Available container fleet, route constraints, and terminal capacity plays a large role in shaping global container shipment logistics.[6][7]


Trucking is frequently used to connect the “linehaul” ocean and rail segments of a global intermodal freight movement. This specialized trucking that runs between ocean ports, rail terminals, and inland shipping docks, is often called drayage, and is typically provided by dedicated drayage companies or by the railroads.[8]


Barges utilise ro-ro vessels to transport freight on large inland waterways such as the Rhine/Danube in Europe and the Mississippi River in the USA.[3]

See also


ICD is short term for Inland Container depot. This is related to deals in India specifically. The ICD is usually a place where there is no sea port & located in different locations in the country as designated by Indian Customs.Most of them are well connected by rail & serve the importers/exporters who are located away from the seaports.It is a way of decongesting the main ports where containers are kept for customs clearance & inspection.


How ICD / CFS make import and export easier, and increase foreign trade

Better customs checking/clearance/easier collection of taxes/revenue

Better transport links/easier transport to Gateway Ports and Airports /cheaper transport to Gateway Ports and Airports

Cheaper Container storage and handling  facilities

Better cargo management

Cargo Storage in sheds and open areas

Refrigeration available in most locations

Quicker processing  / less time lost / avoid delays at Gateway Ports and Airports

Less congestion at Gateway Ports and Airports /eases pressure at Gateway Ports and Airports

The term inland port is also used in a narrow sense in the field of transportation systems to mean a rather more specialised facility that has come about with the advent of the shipping container in international transport. Rather than goods being loaded and unloaded in such ports, shipping containers can just be transferred between ship and road vehicle or ship and train. The container may be transferred again between road and rail elsewhere and the goods are only loaded or unloaded at their point of origin or final destination.

Shipping containers allow some functions traditionally carried out at a seaport to be moved elsewhere. Examples are the functions of receiving, processing through customs, inspecting, sorting, and consolidating containers going to the same overseas port. Container transfer at the seaport can be speeded up and container handling space can be reduced by transferring functions to an inland site away from the port and coast.

Distribution may also be made more efficient by setting up the link between inland site and seaport as, say, a high-capacity rail link with a lower unit cost than sending containers individually by road. The containers are still collected from their origins or distributed to their ultimate destinations by road with the transfer happening at the inland site.

An Inland Port is just such an inland site linked to a seaport. This kind of inland port does not require a waterway. It is often written with initial capitals to indicate a difference to the common usage. Key features of an Inland Port are the transfer of containers between different modes of transportation (intermodal transfer) and the processing of international trade. This differentiates an inland port from a container depot or transport hub.[2]

The term inland port may also be used for a similar model of a site linked to an airport or land border crossing rather than a seaport.

The definition of inland port in the jargon of the transportation and logistics industries is:

“An Inland Port is a physical site located away from traditional land, air and coastal borders with the vision to facilitate and process international trade through strategic investment in multi-modal transportation assets and by promoting value-added services as goods move through the supply chain”. — Center for Transportation Research, University of Texas.[3]

Inland Ports may also be referred to as dry ports or intermodal hubs.

Advantages of inland location

The idea is to move the time-consuming sorting and processing of containers inland, away from congested seaports.

An inland port could also speed the flow of cargo between ships and major land transportation networks, which would carry goods to the rest of the country. 


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April 19, 2009

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