When we talk about types of transport for logistics and the supply chain, the most common ones quickly come to mind: road, rail, air and sea. However, the types of transport do not end here. Today, in addition to talking about these four main ones, we want to stop and pay attention to those other more minority classes that often do not even receive a mention.
Main types of transport
Land freight transport is generally the most familiar to the general public. This is because it is the most widespread for short and medium distances in developed countries and because, being by road, it is the one we are most used to coming across in our daily lives. Other factors such as the flexibility when contracting it and the operational simplicity are the ones that stand out the most.
Rail is the other type of land transportation among the big four. Faced with the independence of the road, the railway is more forced to rely on the rest of the means of transport to complete its journeys. However, after certain distances it begins to be cheaper than the road, which means that despite being less flexible in aspects such as schedules or routes (depending on railway infrastructure), it has a well-deserved space in the market .
The sea is the undisputed king of international transport as the figures show: 90% of international trade travels by ship. Tens of millions of containers cross the oceans each year because ships offer the best cost-per-kilometre ratio. Due to its slower speed compared to other types of transport, it is indicated for non-durable goods. It is also a good choice for very bulky loads and bulk.
If maritime transport was the cheapest, with air we go to the other extreme. Planes offer the highest fares, but they do so in exchange for offering delivery times that would not otherwise be possible for some routes. Among the most common items of this transport are light ones -to avoid high costs-, urgent ones -medications- and those with a large commercial margin that can absorb the impact of transport -luxury products-.
Other less conventional types of transport
Now we are going to give prominence to other types of transport that have less prominence and are even practically unknown in some cases.
Intermodal transportation involves the use of different types of transportation to bring a unit load (usually a container) to its destination. According to the definition of the Conference of Ministers of Transport of Europe, intermodal transport occurs “when transport is made by truck over the shortest possible distance, making the long distance by rail or by water”. For this purpose, the difference between road and rail transport would count as two different types of transport.
The little brother of the sea is a type of transport that is quite unknown despite its age, since transport through navigable rivers has been used since the Neolithic. Freighters, container ships and tankers cross rivers such as the Mississippi and the Amazon. Its volumes are not comparable to the previous cases but it is still used.
The Druzhba pipeline links Russia and Europe through 4,000 kilometers of pipelines.
Although we barely think of it when we talk about transportation, our planet is covered by pipelines that help transport various objects such as fuel, water, and air. We often come across huge logistics monsters that can cross countries and continents. This is the case of the Nord Stream gas pipeline, between Russia and Germany (1,224 kilometres), or the Druzhba oil pipeline, between Russia and Europe, with 4,000 kilometres.
It highlights the fact that the vast majority of types of transport can be used for both people and goods, with the exception of buses (exclusively for human transport) and transport through pipelines (only for goods).
The term “Ro-Ro” refers to all those ships and boats designed to house road cargo, whether trucks or vehicles, which enter the warehouse through a ramp where it will be transported. When, in addition to rolling cargo, it includes the transport of people, they are known as “Ro-PAX”.
Space transportation is, figuratively and literally, the furthest away from conventional types of transportation. The scientific development of humanity has made us go from considering the best methods to move goods and people around the world to thinking about how we can take them off our planet.
And there is no single type of space transportation: space stations, lunar modules, rockets, shuttles… A peculiarity of space transportation is the number of times the means of transportation is single-use and is left to be destroyed or abandoned in space, something that does not happen in the rest of transport.
Another type of transport that can surprise. If transport includes the movement of people and goods, communications can be included in the second concept. For their development they also need complex infrastructures to create their networks and “information highways”, in order to be able to make this transport effective on a planetary level and instantly.
Although technological development can mean that trucks, boats and planes end up being completely unmanned, currently this type of transport is focused on the use of drones for the transport of small parcels. There are many tests that are being carried out in this field, especially with a view to helping e-commerce and the last mile.
Transport with animal traction
Like river transport, animal-drawn transport is very old, although it has given up space and prominence as more modern and efficient methods have emerged. In less developed countries it still retains more importance. This type of transport is also used for the movement of people, often in tourist contexts.
human powered transport
This type of transport has also been relegated over time and, like animals, it is sometimes related to tourism, being practically residual in industrial transport. The bicycle, however, would be a human-powered transport method with a high use in cities today.
As we can see, the types of transport are much more varied and diverse than we can think when we limit ourselves to the four most traditional.