Jean-Paul Rodrigue (2017), New York:
Routledge, 440 pages.
Transport Terminals and Hinterlands
Author: Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Dr. Brian Slack and Dr. Theo Notteboom
1. The Relative Location of Terminals
Geographers have long recognized situation, or relative location,
as an important component of location. It refers to the position of
places in relation to other places. Accessibility is relative, because
the situation of places changes over time with the fluctuations in
trade and growth opportunities. For example, ports in the
Mediterranean used to be at the core of the western world during the
Greek and Roman eras, and Genoa and Venice prospered during the Middle
Ages. The emergence of the Americas, particularly the United States,
as an economic power focused on Atlantic ports and the Mediterranean became
more marginal. The opening of the
Suez Canal in the 19th century refocused the relative location
of the Mediterranean again with increased interactions with Asia.
Although the term "terminal" implies a final destination,
because they are transfer points terminals in fact are typically
intermediate locations in the global flows of passengers and freight.
Landlocked countries do not
have directly access to port terminals and an intermediary country must
be used. In order to carry out the transfer and bundling of freight and passenger
specific equipment and infrastructures are required. Differences in
the nature, composition and timing of transfer activities give rise
to significant differentiations in the form and function between terminals.
A basic distinction is between passenger and freight transfers, because
in order to carry out the transfer and bundling of each type, specific
equipment and infrastructures are required. Passenger and freight terminals
are consequently referring to substantially different entities and often
have different locational attributes.
Spatial relationships between terminals are a vital element in competition,
particularly for ports and rail terminals, and a number of concepts to explore these locational features
have been developed. One of particular
interest concerns the function of
centrality and intermediacy
performed by transport terminals.
Centrality. Focus on the terminal as a point of origin and
destination of traffic. Thus, centrality is linked with the generation
and attraction of movements, which are related to the nature and
the level of economic activities within the vicinity of the concerned
terminal. The function of centrality also involves a significant
amount of intermodal activities.
One of the most enduring concepts in Urban Geography is the central place
theory, with its emphasis on centrality as a feature of the urban hierarchy.
Cities more centrally located to markets are larger with a wider range
of functions. Transport accessibility is equated with size, and thus
many large terminals arise out of centrality. Examples include Heathrow
Airport, London, whose traffic preeminence is related to the city’s
location in the heart of the most developed part of Britain, as one
of the world's most important financial center, as well as Britain's
functional centrality to its former empire to a lesser degree. The port
of New York owes its preeminence in part to the fact that it is at the
heart of the largest market area in the US; the Boston - Washington
corridor. A similar observation applies to the port of Shanghai
serving a large market, industrial and manufacturing base.
Intermediacy. Focus on the terminal as an intermediate point
in the flows of passengers or freight. This term is applied to the
frequent occurrence of places gaining advantage because they are
between other places. The ability to exploit transshipment has been
an important feature of many terminals.
Anchorage, for example, was a convenient airport located on the great
circle air routes between Asia and Europe and Continental USA and Asia.
For many years passengers alighted here while the planes re-fueled.
The growth of long-haul jets has made this activity diminish considerably,
and Anchorage now joins the list of once important airports, such as
Gander, Newfoundland that have seen their relative locations change
because of technological improvements. It should be noted, however,
that Anchorage continues to fulfill its intermediacy role for air freight
traffic. Other examples include Chicago, the dominant US rail hub, that
is not only a major market area in its own right (centrality) but also
lies at the junction of the major eastern and western railroad networks.
Ports too can exploit advantages of intermediate locations. One of the largest
container port in the Mediterranean, Giaoa Tauro, is located on the toe
of Italy. A few years ago the port did not exist, but because of its
location close to the main East-West shipping lanes through the Mediterranean
it has been selected as a hub, where the large mother ships can transfer
containers to smaller vessels for distribution to the established markets
in the northern Mediterranean, a classic hub and spoke network.
Because of changing markets and technologies many existing terminal
sites are no longer suitable. This applies particularly to rail
and port terminals. In most cases the sites are too small, poorly located,
or in other ways inadequate for modern transport operations. Modernization
is usually impractical, and thus redevelopment is usually the only alternative.
2. Hinterlands and Forelands
One of the most enduring concepts in transport geography is the hinterland:
The hinterland is a land space over which a transport terminal,
such as a port, sells its services and interacts with its users.
It accounts for the regional market share that a terminal has relative
to a set of other terminals servicing a region. It regroups all
the customers directly bounded to the terminal and the land
areas from which it draws and distributes traffic. The terminal, depending
on its nature, serves as a place of convergence for the traffic
coming by roads, railways or by sea/fluvial feeders.
The hinterland, or the "natural hinterland",
refers to the entire area which is possible to service from the
terminal. Two types of additional hinterlands
are often noted:
Transport terminals are elements of
transport chains that
include the notions of foreland
and hinterland binding imports and exports activities. The concept of foreland is a mirror image of the hinterland:
- First, the fundamental hinterland
refers to the market area for which a terminal is the closest. It is
assumed that the majority of the traffic will pass through the
terminal, because of proximity and the lack of competitive
- Second, the competitive hinterland (or
competitive margin) is used to describe the market areas over which
the terminal has to compete with others for business.
The foreland of
a terminal refers to the other terminals it is connected to.
For a port, this would represent the other ports it is linked to
through maritime shipping services. The foreland of an airport
would represent all the connected airports accessible through
regular air services.
The main nature of a hinterland is commercial and its importance
is linked with the level of economic activity as well as the
competition from other modes not linked to the terminal. Hinterlands
vary significantly for the same location if the flows concern
passengers or freight. For airports, like most passenger terminals,
the hinterland is well delimited and corresponds to a commuting
range where customers can access the terminal within a couple of hours. The level of activity is proportional to the population
density, the level of income and the prominence of tertiary
activities. For ports,
like most freight terminals, the level of activity corresponds to the dynamics
of the land they are connected to, which is subject to changes in the
nature of its activities and in the level of accessibility. Any change
implies either new opportunities to generate additional port traffic,
a decline, or a change in the nature and composition of the traffic.
There is also a directional component to hinterlands.
Inbound hinterland traffic tends to be consumption based, except in
the case when commodities and parts are involved in the fabrication
of a product, while outbound hinterland traffic is an outcome of extraction
or production. Hinterlands can further be discriminated by the type
of commodity as each is part of a specific supply chain with its own
With the emergence of feeder services and
hub ports, the concept of
foreland has been expanded as a port can service a hinterland
through a maritime link. In recent years the validity of the hinterland concept has been questioned,
especially in the context of contemporary containerization.
The mobility provided by the container has greatly facilitated market
penetration, so that many ports compete over the same market areas for
business. Therefore, hinterland may be overlapping. The notion of discrete hinterlands with well defined boundaries
is questionable since many hinterlands have become
a process facilitated by the development of corridors and
inland terminals. The
extension and strengthening of hinterlands follows a
vertical or horizontal integration
process depending if the port establishes more effective functional
linkages with inland intermodal terminals (vertical) or other
maritime terminals (horizontal). Nevertheless, the
concept of hinterland is still widely employed, and port authorities
continue to emphasize their port's centrality to hinterland areas in
their promotional literature.
The provision of services to a wide range of markets around the world
is considered to be an advantage. With the growth in maritime
traffic and congestion in proximity of port terminal facilities,
several port authorities have become more involved in the
development of strategies
aiming at better servicing their hinterland. Such strategies and the
stakeholders involved are dependent on the
direction of the flows since
import and export-based flows usually involve different. The foreland and hinterland should be seen as a
rather than separate and distinct elements. The emergence of door-to-door services
and networks, where the port is seen as one link in through
transport chains underlines this continuum. In such a context, the port becomes one element of the
maritime / land interface which
insures the continuity of global freight circulation including the
expansion of connectivity within
Transportation terminals are focal
points of economic activity. Cargo handling and passenger transfers
represent an economic function, just like manufacturing or farming.
The inputs and outputs are traffic flows. In some respects the extent
of the activity can be measured easily, such as numbers of passengers
handled, or numbers of trains departing, but in many others, measurement
is complicated. In the case of an airport, measuring the size by counting
the number of aircraft movements can be produce distortions because
of differences in the size of the planes. This problem is even more
acute in shipping, where small coastal ships of 500 tons capacity are
considered as equal to bulk carriers of 250,000 tons in simple counts
of vessel numbers. Similarly, there are major discrepancies between
different types of cargo where 1,000 tons
of ore cannot be equated with 1,000 tons of electronics. The problems
of measuring traffic volumes thus need to be carefully assessed.
However traffic is measured, great variations exist in the volumes
of traffic handled by different terminals. In Canada, for example, there
are over 300 sea ports. The largest, Vancouver, handles more than 50
million tons of cargoes per year, while there are dozens of small ports
handling less than 10,000 tons. Similarly, there are enormous differences
in the traffic volume at airports, from Chicago which handles nearly
70 million passengers, to small towns in the US whose traffic is measured
Size variations are tending to increase because of the trend across
the modes for traffic to be concentrated in load centers. Certain
terminals are selected as traffic hubs, where passengers and/or freight
is assembled for onward distribution. This is most apparent in passenger
air traffic, where many airlines have adopted hub-and-spoke network
structures. Each hub is served by smaller regional carriers/planes for
local service, with the hubs being linked by wide-bodied jets providing
long-haul service. Similar systems have been established in the North
American intermodal rail networks, where trucks provide local pick-up
and delivery of containers, and where double-stack trains haul the containers
between the major hubs. The concept of load center is more contentious
in maritime transport, where the evidence using the Gini coefficient
is less clear.
The origins and destinations of traffic is of great interest
to the transport geographer and of vital concern to the terminal managers.
Serving the hinterland, therefore, is the prime function of a terminal.
Competition between terminals may be seen as a struggle for dominance
over particular market areas. Successful terminals are those that have
extended their hinterlands to capture market areas that were formerly
served by a competitor. For much of the Nineteenth Century the ports
of New York, Baltimore, Boston, and Philadelphia sought to control the
trade of the developing Mid West, a battle that New York was able to
win, because of its superior rail and canal links. Maintaining dominance
over a hinterland is important, even today, as there are
modal options such as
rail that increase competition. This strategy is moving
towards a new phase as areas nearby major terminals, particularly ports,
tend to be congested. Attempts at modal
shift and freight diversion are getting increasingly common.
4. Agglomeration, Linkages and Growth
The traffic flowing through terminals and the need to transfer freight
between the modes gives opportunities to other activities to exploit
locational advantages. There have been long standing advantages for
certain types of manufacturing to locate near terminals. Raw materials
imported through a port, for example, provide opportunities for processing
industries. Oil refineries, flour mills, sugar refineries, steel processing
are examples of industries that are frequently attracted to port sites.
In a similar fashion, firms requiring good access to distant markets
for the sale of their products have sought sites near to rail facilities
The link between manufacturing and terminals, especially ports, gave
rise to the concept of Maritime Industrial Development Areas.
In Japan and Europe, in particular, post-war reconstruction involved
the planning and establishment of new industrial complexes on
sites adjacent to new port and rail terminals. The planning recognized
the needs to establish new terminal infrastructures as well as locating
new manufacturing developments to serve as local clients of the facility.
With globalization, this went further as production and consumption
became increasingly separated, leading to a greater array of freight
distribution activities. Thus, the link between distribution and terminals
has also taken shape with the emergence of logistics zones.
While the relationships between terminals and the manufacturing sector
are evident in the urban landscape, even closer links exist with the
service sector, although the relationships may be not quite as visible.
Terminal activity creates demands for a very wide range of transport
services. These include activities as diverse as aircraft maintenance,
locomotive repair, flight kitchens, warehousing, duty free stores, hotels,
freight forwarders, and customs brokers. Together they comprise an important
business sector that contributes to the overall effectiveness of the
terminal, while clearly being dependent upon it for business. This symbiotic
relationship is reflected in the locational patterns of these firms.
In most cities these services are highly clustered in two concentrations.
Many are located in close proximity to the terminal itself. Ship chandlers,
aircraft kitchens, and hotels, for instance, are usually sited close
to the port or airport. A further cluster is usually found in the central
business district. Forwarders, brokers, insurance or ticket offices
are typically in central locations.
According to the growth poles theory, development is not uniform
and takes place at specific locations around which activities agglomerate.
By the infrastructures they provide, activities can improve their accessibility
to suppliers and customers. In addition to the linkages with manufacturing
and the service sector, terminals are major employers in their own right.
In order to operate a major terminal requires a wide range of employee
skills, from baggage handling and aircraft refueling, to air traffic
controllers and ships' pilots. Terminals, therefore, are economic forces
in their own right, and because they generate links to other sectors
of the economy they become foci of economic activity. They are frequently
considered as growth poles. For
instance, a growth strategy for inland terminals revolves around the
formation of "freight villages" where
distribution centers share common facilities, including a better access
to a transport terminal.
- Bulk products (minerals, chemicals, raw materials, wood,
grain, etc.). In this case distance is one of the most important
factors shaping hinterlands. Due to the nature of the products and
the high transport costs involved, hinterlands tend to be small
and serviced by high capacity corridors to the direct location of
extraction or production.
- Parts and manufactured goods. Mostly concerns containerized
traffic. Improvements in intermodal transportation and globalization have considerably expanded the hinterland for this
type of traffic. In many cases, the hinterland can
encompass large economic regions,
particularly if transport corridors are involved.
Freight Village. Area within which all activities
relating to transport, logistics and the distribution of goods,
both for national and international transit, are carried out by
various operators. These operators can either be owners or
tenants of buildings and facilities (warehouses, break-bulk
centers, storage areas, offices, car parks, etc...) which have
been built there. Also, in order to comply with free competition
rules, a freight village must allow access to all companies
involved in the activities set out above. A freight village must
also be equipped with all the public facilities to carry out the
above mentioned operations. If possible, it should also include
public services for the staff and equipment of the users. In
order to encourage intermodal transport for the handling of
goods, a freight village must preferably be served by a
multiplicity of transport modes (road, rail, deep sea, inland
Terminals represent an important category of land use. Frequently,
they are the largest single users of land in a city. Geographers
have played an important role in understanding transport terminal land
use and its relationships. Terminals such
as ports exert a significant influence over neighboring land uses.
This is due in part because of the intense linkages they generate
with other urban functions, but it is due also to externalities
that are frequently negative. Thus, industrial land is commonly associated
with terminal sites, which are among the most important industrial zones
in a city. However, because of noise, pollution and visual blight, both
of the terminals and adjacent industries, terminals are also frequently
areas of social, economic, and environmental degradation. Older port
sites and rail terminals, in particular, are seen as disadvantaged.
Docklands areas in many cases are centers of poverty and social deprivation.