An intermodal container is a large standardized shipping container, designed and built for intermodal freight transport, meaning these containers can be used across different modes of transport – from ship to rail to truck – without unloading and reloading their cargo. Intermodal containers are primarily used to store and transport materials and products efficiently and securely in the global containerized intermodal freight transport system, but smaller numbers are in regional use as well. These containers are known under a number of names, such as simply container, cargo or freight container, IS container, shipping, sea or ocean container, container van or (Conex) box, sea or c can.
Intermodal containers exist in many types and a number of standardized sizes, but the majority of the global container fleet are dry freight or general purpose containers, durable closed steel boxes, mostly of either 20- or 40-foot standard length. The common heights are 8 feet 6 inches and 9 feet 6 inches. These containers can carry a gross maximum weight of 66,139 pounds.
Just like cardboard boxes and pallets, these containers are a means to bundle cargo and goods into larger, unitized loads, that can be easily handled, moved, and stacked, and that will pack tightly in a ship or yard. Intermodal containers share a number of key construction features to withstand the stresses of intermodal shipping, to facilitate their handling and to allow stacking.
In 2012 there were about 20.5 million intermodal containers in the world of varying types to suit different cargoes.
Containers have largely supplanted the traditional break bulk cargo – in 2010 containers accounted for 60% of the world’s seaborne trade.
Intermodal containers are sold and rented to clients as storage units. These include car dealerships, construction companies, event companies and those in the mining and forestry industry.