Jean-Paul Rodrigue (2017), New York:
Routledge, 440 pages.
The Function of Transport Terminals
Authors: Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue and Dr. Brian
1. The Nature of Transport Terminals
A terminal may be defined as any facility where
and freight are assembled or dispersed. Both cannot travel individually,
but in batches. Passengers have to go to bus terminals and airports
first, where they are "assembled" in busloads or planeloads to reach
their final destinations where they are dispersed. Freight has to be
consolidated at a port or a rail yard before onward shipment. Terminals
may also be points of interchange involving the same mode of transport.
Thus, a passenger wishing to travel by train from Paris to Rotterdam
may have to change trains in Brussels, or an air passenger wishing to
fly between Montreal and Los Angeles may have to change planes in Toronto.
Terminals may also be points of interchange between different modes
of transportation, so that goods being shipped from the American Mid-West
to the Ruhr in Germany may travel by rail from Cincinnati to the port
of New York, put on a ship to Rotterdam, and then placed on a barge
for delivery to Duisburg. Transport terminals, therefore, are central
and intermediate locations in the movements of passengers and freight.
Terminal. Any location where freight and passengers either
originates, terminates, or is handled in the transportation process.
Terminals are central and intermediate locations in the movements
of passengers and freight. They often require specific facilities
and equipment to accommodate the traffic they handle.
Terminals may be points of interchange within the same modal
system and which insure a continuity of the flows. This is particularly
the case for modern air and port operations with hubs connecting
parts of the network. Terminals, however, are
also very important points of transfer between modes. Buses and
cars deliver people to airports, trucks haul freight to rail terminals,
and rail brings freight to docks for loading on ships. One of the main
attributes of transport terminals, international and regional alike,
is their convergence function. They are indeed obligatory points
of passage having invested on their geographical location which is generally
intermediate to commercial flows. Thus, transport terminals are
either created by the centrality or the intermediacy of their respective
locations. In some cases, large transport terminals, particularly ports,
confer the status of gateway or hub to
their location since they become obligatory points of transit between
different segments of the transport system.
The time a vehicle (bus, truck, train, or
ship) is allowed to load or unload passengers or freight at a terminal
is usually referred as dwell time. For freight
terminals dwell time refers to the amount of time cargo stays in
a terminal yard or storage area while waiting to be loaded.
Dwell time can be operational, which reflects the performance of
terminal infrastructures and management, including the
scheduling and availability of transport services. It can also
be transactional, which is usually linked with the performance
of clearance procedures (such as customs). Finally, dwell time
can be storage related, implying that the owner or the carrier
of the cargo deliberately leaves the cargo at the terminal as
part of a transport or supply chain management strategy. Intermodalism has incited new relations between transport
terminals, which are becoming nodes in integrated transport
chains. This is particularly the case between port, rail and
barge terminals. New forms of integration are also emerging,
such as between ports
With one exception, passenger terminals require relatively little
specific equipment. This is because individual mobility is the means
by which passengers access busses, ferries or trains. Certainly, services
such as information, shelter, food and security are required, but the
layouts and activities taking place in passenger terminals tend to be
simple. They may appear congested
at certain times of the day, but the flows of people can be managed
successfully with good design of platforms and access points, and with
appropriate scheduling of arrivals and departures. The amount of time
passengers spend in such terminals tends to be brief. As a result, bus
terminals and railway stations tend to be made up of simple components,
from ticket offices and waiting areas to limited amounts of retailing.
Airports are of a complete different order. They are among the most complex
of terminals. Moving people through an airport has
become a very significant problem, not least because of security concerns.
Passengers may spend several hours transiting, with check-in and security
checks on departure, and baggage pick up and in many cases customs and
immigration on arrival. Planes may be delayed for a multitude of reasons,
implying a complex management of gates and scheduling of flights.
The result is that a wide range of services have to be provided
for passengers not directly related to the transfer function, including
restaurants, bars, stores, hotels, in addition to the activities directly
related to operations such as check-in halls, passenger loading ramps
and baggage handling facilities. At the same time airports have to provide
the very specific needs of the aircraft, from runways to maintenance
facilities, from fire protection to air traffic control.
Measurement of activities in passenger terminals is generally
straightforward. The most common indicator is the number of passengers
handled, sometimes differentiated according to arrivals and departures.
Transfer passengers are counted in the airport totals even though
they do not originate there, and so airports that serve as major transfer
facilities inevitably record high passenger totals. This is evident
in airports such as Atlanta and Chicago where in-transit passengers
account for over 50% of the total passenger movements. High transfer
passenger activity has been enhanced by the actions of many of the leading
airlines adopting hub and spoke networks. This results in many passengers
being forced to change planes at the hub airports. By selecting certain
airports as hubs, the carriers are able to dominate activity at those
airports, thereby controlling most landing and departure slots and the
best gates, thus fending off rival airlines. In this way they are able
to extract monopoly profits.
A further measure of airport activity is number of aircraft movements,
a figure that must be used with some caution because it pays no regard
to the capacity of planes. A 50 seat regional jet and a 300 seats
wide-body aircraft both count as one movement. High numbers of aircraft movements
thus may not
be highly correlated with passenger traffic totals. Still, the
number of aircraft movements is an important variable as it indicates
the level of usage of the runways as aircraft take about the same landing of
takeoff capacity, irrespective of their size.
Freight handling requires specific loading and unloading equipment.
In addition to the facilities required to accommodate ships, trucks
and trains (berths, loading bays and freight yards respectively) a very
wide range of handling gear is required that is determined by the kinds
of cargoes handled. Freight transport terminals have a set of
characteristics linked with
core (terminal operations) and ancillary activities (added value
such as distribution). The result is that terminals are differentiated
functionally both by the mode involved and the commodities transferred.
A basic distinction is that between bulk, general cargo and containers:
- Location. The major locational factor of a transport
terminal is obviously to serve a large concentration of population
and/or industrial activities, representing a terminal's market area.
Specific terminals have specific locational constraints, such as
port and airport sites. New transport terminals tend to be located
outside central areas to avoid high land costs and congestion.
- Accessibility. Accessibility to other terminals (at the
local, regional and global scale) as well as how well the terminal
is linked to the regional transport system is of importance. For
instance, a maritime terminal has little relevance if it is efficiently
handling maritime traffic but is poorly connected to its market
areas through an inland transport system (rail, road or barge).
- Infrastructure. The main function of a terminal is to
handle and transship freight or passengers since modes and
passengers or cargo are
separated. They have a
capacity which is related to the amount of land they occupy
and their level of technological, labor and managerial
intensity. Infrastructure considerations
are consequently important as they must accommodate current traffic
and anticipate future trends and also technological and logistical
changes. Modern terminal infrastructures consequently require massive
investments and are among the largest
structures ever built. A utilization rate of 75 to 80% is
considered to be the optimal since above this level, congestion
starts to arise, undermining the reliability of the terminal
A feature of most freight activity is the need for storage.
Assembling the individual bundles of goods may be time-consuming and
thus some storage may be required. This produces the need for terminals
to be equipped with specialized infrastructures such as grain silos,
storage tanks, and refrigerated warehouses, or simply space to stockpile,
such as for containers. Containerization, because of its large volumes,
has forced a significant modal and
temporal separation at terminals and thus the need of a buffer
in the form of storage areas. In addition, a variety of
can take place in the vicinity of terminals, particularly if long distance
inland transportation is involved. Transloading, when suitable,
enables to reduce transportation and inventory costs.
Measurement of freight traffic through terminals is more complicated
than for passengers. Because freight is so diverse, standard measures
of weight and value are difficult to compare and combine.
Because bulk cargoes are inevitably weighty, terminals specialized in
such cargoes will record higher throughputs measured in tons than others
more specialized in general cargoes. This is evident for the world's two
leading ports, Singapore and Rotterdam, which are dominated by
petroleum. The reverse may be true if value of commodities handled is
the measure employed. The problem of measurement involving weight or
volumes becomes very difficult when many types of freight are handled,
because one is adding together goods that are inherently unequal. Interpreting the significance of freight traffic totals
is thus subject to caution.
For container terminals a common measure of productivity concerns
the number of lifts per container gantry crane-hour, which are
usually 25-40 moves per hour for quay cranes and 40-60 for rail
The difficulty of comparing traffic totals of different commodities
has led to attempts to ‘weight’ cargoes based upon some indication of
the value added they contribute to the terminal. The most famous
is the so-called "Bremen rule". It was developed in 1982 by the port
of Bremen and based on a survey of the labor cost incurred in the
handling of one ton of different cargoes. The results found that handling
one ton of general cargo equals three tons of dry bulk and 12 tons of
liquid bulk. Although this is the most widely used method, other ‘rules’
have been developed by individual ports, such as the Antwerp and Rotterdam
rules. The "Antwerp rule" indicates that the
highest value added is the handling of fruit. Using this as a benchmark,
forest products handling requires 3.0 tons to provide the same value
added as fruit, cars 1.5 tons, containers 7 tons, cereals 12 tons, and
crude oil 47 tons. The "Rotterdam Rules" are more recent (2009) and
relates to common practices to insure the transport of freight
"door-to-door" with a sea transport leg.
Because they jointly perform transfer and consolidation
functions, terminals are important economically because of the costs
incurred in carrying out these activities. The traffic they handle is
a source of employment and benefit regional economic activities, notably
by providing accessibility to suppliers and customers. Terminal costs
represent an important component of total transport costs. They are
fixed costs that are incurred regardless
of the length of the eventual trip, and vary significantly between modes. They can be considered as:
- Bulk refers to goods that are handled in large quantities
that are unpackaged and are available in uniform dimensions. Liquid
bulk goods include crude oil and refined products that can be handled
using pumps to move the product along hoses and pipes. Relatively
limited handling equipment is needed, but significant storage facilities
may be required. Dry bulk includes a wide range of products, such
as ores, coal and cereals. More equipment for dry bulk handling
is required, because the material may have to utilize specialized
grabs and cranes and conveyer-belt systems.
- General cargo refers to goods that are of many shapes,
dimensions and weights such as machinery,
and parts. Because the goods are so uneven and irregular, handling
is difficult to mechanize. General cargo handling usually requires
a lot of labor.
- Containers are standard units that have had a
substantial impact on
terminal operations. Container terminals have minimal
labor requirements and perform a wide variety of
They however require a significant amount of storage spaces which
are simple paved areas where
containers can be stacked and retrieved with
equipment (cranes, straddlers
and holsters). Depending on the intermodal function of the container
terminal, specialized cranes are required, such as portainers (container
cranes). Intermodal terminals and their related activities are increasingly
seen as agents of added
value within supply chains.
Because ships have the largest carrying capacities, they incur the
largest terminal costs, since it may take many days to load or
unload a vessel. Conversely, a truck or a passenger bus can be loaded
much more quickly, and hence the terminal costs for road transport are
the lowest. Terminal costs play an important role in determining the
competitive position between the modes. Because of their high freight
terminal costs, ships and rail are generally unsuitable for short-haul trips.
Competition between the modes is frequently measured by cost comparisons.
Efforts to reduce transport costs can be achieved by using more fuel-efficient
vehicles, increasing the size of ships, and reducing the labor employed
on trains. However, unless terminal costs are reduced as well, the benefits
would not be realized. For example, in water transportation, potential
economies of scale realized by ever larger and more fuel-efficient vessels
would be negated if it took longer to load and off-load the jumbo ships.
Over the last decades, very significant steps to reduce terminal
costs have been made. These have included introducing information
management systems such as EDI (electronic data interchange) that
have greatly speeded up the processing of information and removing delays
typical of paper transactions. The most significant development has
been the mechanization of loading and unloading activities. Mechanization
has been facilitated by the use of units of standard dimensions such
as the pallet and most importantly, the container. The container, in
particular, has revolutionized terminal operations. For the mode most
affected by high terminal costs, ocean transport, ships used to spend
as much as three weeks in a port undergoing loading and loading. The
much larger ships of today spend less than a couple of days in port.
A panamax container ship requires approximately 750 man/hours to be loaded
and unloaded. Prior to containerization it would have required 24,000
man/hours to handle the same volume of cargo. The rail industry too
has benefited from the container, which permits trains to be assembled
in freight yards in a matter of hours instead of days. Many
mechanized terminals are now being
automated, which further
expands their productivity and lowers their labor costs. Still,
automation involves significant capital expenditures.
Reduced terminal costs have had a major impact on transportation
and international trade. Not only have they reduced over-all freight
rates, and thereby re-shaping competition between the modes, but they
have had a profound effect on transport systems. Ships spend far less
time in port, enabling ships to make many more revenue-generating trips
per year. Efficiency in the airports, rail facilities and ports greatly
improves the effectiveness of transportation as a whole.
Activities in transport terminals represent not just exchanges of
goods and people, but constitute an important economic activity.
Employment of people in various terminal operations represents an advantage
to the local economy. Dockers, baggage handlers, crane operators and
air traffic controllers are example of jobs generated directly by terminals.
In addition, there are a wide range of activities that are linked to
transportation activity at the terminals. These include the actual carriers
(airlines, shipping lines etc.) and intermediate agents (customs brokers,
freight forwarders) required to carry out transport operations at the
terminal. It is no accident that centers
that perform major airport, port and rail functions also important economic
- Infrastructure costs. Include construction and maintenance
costs of structures such as piers, runways, cranes and
(warehouses, offices, etc.).
- Transshipment costs. The costs of loading and unloading
passengers or freight.
- Administration costs. Many terminals are managed
by institutions such as port or airport authorities or by private
companies (e.g. terminal operators). In both cases administration
costs are incurred.