Articulation Point and Freight Distribution
An articulation point is a location that promotes the continuity of circulation in a transportation system servicing a supply chain. It is the interface between different spatial systems that includes terminal facilities, but also the numerous activities linked with freight circulation such as distribution centers, warehouses and even insurance and finance. If it connects a global and a regional system of circulation through intermodalism the articulation point acts as a gateway. If it connects the same geographical scales, such as two regional systems of circulation, within the same mode then the articulation point acts as a hub.
Separate but closely integrated activities, along with the terminals they are linked to, form an agglomeration of distribution activities. Conventionally, geographical factors linked to the site and situation of terminals (especially for maritime terminals) were linked with the location of articulation points. Around these facilities agglomerated many freight handling and distribution activities. The emergence of intermodal transportation systems reinforces articulation points as major locations of convergence and transshipment and has modified their geography with increased locational flexibility. While major terminals have expanded and relocated to more peripheral locations, namely port facilities, many distribution centers have relocated even further away along corridors.
The importance of an articulation point is measured by the volume and the nature of the traffic it handles and the geographical extent of the distribution system it provides. For instance, an international articulation point (gateway) handles a substantial amount of maritime, land and air traffic and has an hinterland that encompasses several regional articulation points. A regional articulation point will handle traffic mostly related to land transportation and will be characterized by a smaller hinterland. Functionally, an articulation point is a concrete geographical node within a wide variety of supply chains. It involves a concentration of many transport terminals, with each hub servicing its respective distribution system. The hierarchy and sequence of freight distribution will thus be reflected in the hierarchy and sequence of articulation points.
Three dominant functions of freight circulation can be assumed by articulation points, each deriving added value:
  • Freight Transshipment (A). Involves a set of intermodal activities transshipping freight from one mode to the other. Dominant articulation points handle substantial amounts of freight through their transport terminals. This function is particularly important for gateways providing an interface between regions and the global economy.
  • Freight Integration (B). Involves activities related to the logistics of freight circulation, the most common being the composition, warehousing and decomposition of freight shipments. Distribution centers are the common expression of this function of articulation (B2), often linked with transshipment activities taking place at major terminals (B1).
  • Freight Convergence (C). Involves freight flows bound to another location but going through an articulation point because of its intermediacy. Increased congestion has often made these flows less desirable with modal shift alternatives being considered.
The different scales and functions of articulation are linked with different transport terminals. Major international articulation points are indissociable from port and airport terminals, while regional articulation points tend to be linked with inland transport terminals, such as rail, along a freight corridor.