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Please note: This summary is provided to help you understand the regulations. Consult the references provided for links to the full text of the regulations.

Guide to Intermodal Topics on TERC

Road Rail Air Water

According to Wikipedia, "Intermodal freight transport" involves transportation in an "intermodal" container (usually railcar size) or vehicle, using multiple modes of transportation (rail, ship, and truck), without any handling of the freight itself when changing modes. Avoiding the need to unpack and repack the freight can improve security, reduce damage and loss, and significantly speed the transfer of cargo between modes. These advantages can offset the extra distance a load may have to travel if an intermodal transfer facility does not lie near the direct route between shipper and destination.

This page is intended to provide shippers and transporters access to information on TERC which can help them evaluate the environmental impacts and compliance obligations associated with intermodal transport. In general, the fact that a shipment is intermodal does not affect the environmental regulations that apply to the mode taken along any given leg of the route. At transfer facilities, where at least two modes are operating at the same location, operators may need to be aware of two overlapping sets of regulations. But as far as the regulations are concerned, the whole is fundamentally the sum of the parts. In contrast, when comparing the relative environmental impacts of intermodal versus single mode options, understanding the relative advantages and disadvantages of each mode individually is not sufficient, and more complicated tradeoffs can emerge.

Links to useful environmental compliance assistance resources available on TERC and other sites are provided below for the following categories:

Transferring materials between carriers

Spill reporting -- who is responsible?


The U.S. Department of Transportation requires that "the entity having physical control of a shipment" is responsible for filling out and filing DOT Form F 5800.1 when a spill occurs that involves a hazardous material. When a reportable incident occurs while material is being transferred from one carrier to another, who is responsible for filing the report?

Answer: it depends. See Transportation Spills on the TERC Spills and Leaks -- Reporting topic page for details.

The following TERC topic pages contain information on permitting and reporting requirements involved in transferring materials (including hazardous materials) between carriers:

Shippers and transporters may find the following additional resources helpful:

Comparing environmental consequences of intermodal choices

Comparing greenhouse gas emissions


Transportation is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and intermodal transport choices can make a big difference. For an overview of what the numbers really mean, see the TERC Intermodal Choices and Greenhouse Gases and Best Speed for Fuel Economy topic pages.

Intermodal transportation offers the potential to lower costs and mitigate environmental impacts by choosing the most efficient mode for each leg of the route.

The TERC topic pages listed below provide information on the efficiency and environmental consequences of present and future transportation modes and fuels.

The following references also contain useful information comparing the environmental impacts of alternative transportation options:

State-by-state environmental regulations affecting intermodal facilities

Intermodal transfer facilities deal with the same wide array of state and local regulations that affect any large industrial or commercial facility. TERC offers state-by-state information on several key environmental compliance topics. Each of the resources listed below presents a regulatory summary and links to useful contacts, forms, and documents for each U. S. state.

More resources

A 2012 study examines the potential for greenhouse gas reductions using intermodal transport, based on a data set of more than 400,000 intermodal shipments.

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