Container Bites: Interesting Intermodal Container Stats and Tid Bits

truck driving by stacks of intermodal containers
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Amylee Silva

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This post was last updated on March, 7th 2022

We’ve all seen intermodal containers on the back of trucks, trains, and ships. But do you know how intermodal containers work? How long have they been in use? What is their impact on society?

The intermodal container is one of the most important inventions that has revolutionized global trade. It’s an all-purpose tool for shipping goods across oceans, seas, states and provinces, and worldwide.

And today, we want to give you some interesting intermodal container stats that you would not believe!

Table of contents

  1. A Quick History of the Shipping Container
  2. 24 Intermodal Container Shipping Facts & Statistics That May Interest You
  3. The future of the shipping container and transporting cargo
multi coloured intermodal shipping containers

A Quick History of the Shipping Container

Malcom McLean, inventor of the intermodal container

The intermodal container, created in 1956 by Malcom McLean, revolutionized the shipping industry.

It eliminated the need for goods to be loaded and unloaded – a time-consuming and costly process and has become the standard of a container moving from one intermodal transport to another.

The beauty of intermodal shipping containers

Whether a container is transported from a truck to a rail car or from a cargo port to a warehouse, the intermodal container comes in various sizes with standardized dimensions, allowing the different modes of transportation to carry it without any modifications.

That said, twenty foot equivalent units are the most common size and can hold between 9 to 11 pallets.

The intermodal container has genuinely been a global game-changer, as it has greatly facilitated international trade and intermodal freight transport.

24 Intermodal Container Shipping Facts & Statistics That May Interest You

Intermodal shipping container facts worth knowing

Today’s intermodal containers are made of high-strength steel with locking devices that make it possible to stack two or more units on top of each other and fasten them together securely.

The standard twenty foot equivalent unit container’s nickname is TEU. You could say, “This container equals one TEU,” to explain that the container in question is a 20-foot long ISO container.

The largest size of intermodal containers is a 53-foot container, considered as High Cube, and has around 60% more storage total capacity versus a classic 40-foot-long container.

Intermodal transport volume stats

Approximately 90% of the world’s goods are transported by sea.

– At any one time, there are approximately 20 million shipping containers adrift at sea.

– The amount of goods carried by containers has risen from 102 million metric tons in 1980 to about 1.83 billion metric tons in 2017.

– It is estimated that approximately 600 million shipping containers are in use today.

– Maritime transport (also known as Ocean shipping or seaborne trade) more than doubled between 1990 and 2020 from four billion tons to 11 billion tons – source

World shipping industry facts and stats

– The first container ship, dubbed the Autocarrier, was launched by the Southern Railway of the United Kingdom in 1931.

– China is the world’s top container producer, building nearly 97 percent of all shipping containers.

– According to the World Shipping Council, in 2018, the busiest container port in the world was the port of Shanghai in China, with about 42 million containers that moved through it.

– In 2019, the annual world shipping trade was valued at 13 trillion USD.

– In October 2021, the spot freight route charges from Shanghai to Rotterdam reached 14.605 USD (a 565 percent increase over the previous year)

Interesting facts about intermodal container transport

– In March 2021, a 1,300-foot-long vessel carrying containers (18,300 to be exact) got stuck in the Suez Canal, and it cost the world’s economy 400 million dollars per hour for almost a week.

– In 2021, the average time it took to unload a container in Asia was 27 seconds, in Northern Europe 46 seconds, and in North America, 76 seconds.

– According to the Intermodal Association of North America, 95% of all manufactured goods spend part of their journey in an intermodal container.

– When appropriately handled, intermodal transportation over an “east coast to west coast” shipment situation, or vice versa, can be between 15% to 20% cheaper than a single trucking service.

The capacity of the different modes of transportation

– A container ship can carry up to 11,000 containers. That means lining up; the vessel is transporting about 70 km or 44 miles of shipping containers.

– An intermodal freight train is up to two times more fuel-efficient than a transportation truck.

– The maximum capacity of a vessel with the name “Globe,” which can carry 19,100 20-foot containers, has a capacity of 300 million tablets or 156 million pairs of shoes.

Statistics on the different types of shipping container

– Dry freight or general-purpose containers used to transport non-perishable goods make up 90% of all intermodal containers.

– Refrigerated containers, designed to transport perishable goods under cold temperatures, make up only 6% of the world’s containers.

Intermodal transport and Sustainability

– According to Saxon, inefficient container supply chains account for around 20 billion USD of industrial waste each year, the result of a lack of data sharing. 

– Using rail transport as part of the intermodal supply chain positively impacts the environment as when over 100 ton-miles, trucks produce 19.8 pounds of carbon dioxide, trains produce around 5.4 pounds only.

– For long distances container shipping (over 1,000 miles), it is estimated that integrating intermodal rail service rather than trucking alone would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65%.

The future of the shipping container and transporting cargo

Shipping containers have a bright future in intermodal transportation.

With incidents like the Ever Given in the Suez canal and the COVID-19 pandemic, the shipping industry is expected to surge.

Transporting goods has never been more challenging. Many companies are recovering financially due to the collapse in oil prices, and price wars ignite as shipping rates go through the roof.

Industry leaders in maritime container shipping like Maersk and Ever Given report record revenues and forecasts well into the near future. With port bottlenecks and congestion concerns worsening, business and consumer demand are not going anywhere soon.

Read our post about everything you want and need to know about containerization for a more in-depth look at intermodal containers.

Looking for an intermodal transportation quote? Contact one of our rail experts today to learn more about how we can help you save on your next shipment.

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