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
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
Three dominant functions of freight circulation can be assumed by
articulation points, each deriving added value:
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.
- 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
- 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.