What is an Intermodal Container and How Does It Work?

Intermodal Containers are enclosed, secure metal boxes that are used for transporting goods from one location to another. Also called ‘ISO Containers’ they can be transported by road, rail, or sea and they can be transferred between different modes of transport with ease as they all use the same standard dimensions. (Hence the title ‘Intermodal’.)

There are a variety of types of Intermodal Containers including dry containers, refrigerated containers, dangerous goods containers and tanks to name a few.

The Intermodal Container standards were created by the International Standards Organization (ISO) in order to standardize intermodal cargo containers. These standards are adhered to by most shipping container manufacturers and logistics operators so that goods can easily be moved from one place to another, regardless of whether it is by road, rail or sea.


What does ISO container stand for?

ISO stands for ‘International Standards Organisation’ and points to the fact that the container complies with the international ISO standard for specifications and manufacturing quality.

In the world of maritime operations, cargo transportation has benefitted substantially from these containers – allowing for easy and hassle-free movement between rail, road and water transportation routes.

An ISO container, therefore, provides for quick cargo shipping with lower operational costs as it does away with the need to repackage and offload cargo at different points of the journey.

ISO container dimensions – What you need to know

Standard ISO container dimensions are 2.43m (8ft) wide, 2.59m (8.5ft) high, and are available in two lengths – 6.06m (20ft) and 12.2m (40ft). Extra tall shipping containers (also known as ‘High Cube Containers’) are also available, measuring 2.89m high.

Even though smaller intermodal containers are available – 2.99m (10ft) and 2.43m (8ft) – they cannot be shipped the same way as the 6.06m and 12.2m ones, they must be strapped to a 20ft flatrack or shipped loose as ‘breakbulk’.  A standard 20ft ISO container for sale has a 33.1m³ capacity, which is enough room to ship nearly 100 domestic washing machines!

What are intermodal containers typically used for?

Common items transported through ISO storage containers include:

  • Non-perishable goods (manufactured goods).
  • Non-perishable cargo which may be damaged in transit due to condensation, such as coffee, cocoa, tea, etc.
  • Perishable and temperature-sensitive/frozen cargo such as meat, seafood, medicines, agricultural products, etc can be stored in a refrigerated or ‘reefer container’
  • Bulk hazardous/non-hazardous chemicals like liquids, oils, or foods and goods typically shipped in tank containers.
  • Oversized cargo including construction materials, such as heavy machinery and lumbar can be transported using a flat rack or platform container.

What is an ISO shipping container made of?

An ISO shipping container is made of steel or aluminum, as it’s a large ‘metal box’ used in the transport of a variety of goods by sea, rail and road. They are completely airtight and come in different varieties according to storage and transport demands – dry storage containers, open top containers, open side containers, etc.

What are the benefits of an intermodal container?

Safer, more reliable and higher capacity

ISO shipping containers give shippers the equipment and standardised transit schedules they need to streamline logistics – and do so in a safer, more reliable way.

Environmentally friendly

Intermodal containers have a long life span and then can be used either for scrap metal or refurbished for other uses such as shipping container homes, offices or on-shore only storage.

Reduced costs

By handpicking a carrier for ISO container shipping, you can benefit from lower rates and cut down overall handling costs as a result.

Where to buy an ISO container for sale?

Cargostore Worldwide is your one-stop destination for a rapid and reliable supply of ISO containers. Contact us now for an obligation free quote.



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