The term inland port is also used in a narrow sense in the field of transportation systems to mean a rather more specialized facility that has come about with the advent of the intermodal container (standardized shipping container) in international transport. Rather than goods being loaded and unloaded in such ports, shipping containers can just be transferred between ship and road vehicle or ship and train. The container may be transferred again between road and rail elsewhere and the goods are only loaded or unloaded at their point of origin or final destination.
Shipping containers allow some functions traditionally carried out at a seaport to be moved elsewhere. Examples are the functions of receiving, processing through customs, inspecting, sorting, and consolidating containers going to the same overseas port. Container transfer at the seaport can be sped up and container handling space can be reduced by transferring functions to an inland site away from the port and coast.
Distribution may also be made more efficient by setting up the link between inland site and seaport as, say, a high-capacity rail link with a lower unit cost than sending containers individually by road. The containers are still collected from their origins or distributed to their ultimate destinations by road with the transfer happening at the inland site.
An inland port is just such an inland site linked to a seaport. This kind of inland port does not require a waterway. Key features of an inland port are the transfer of containers between different modes of transportation (intermodal transfer) and the processing of international trade. This differentiates an inland port from a container depot or transport hub.
The term inland port may also be used for a similar model of a site linked to an airport or land border crossing rather than a seaport.
The definition of inland port in the jargon of the transportation and logistics industries is:
"An inland port is a physical site located away from traditional land, air and coastal borders with the vision to facilitate and process international trade through strategic investment in multi-modal transportation assets and by promoting value-added services as goods move through the supply chain". — Center for Transportation Research, University of Texas.
An inland port can speed the flow of cargo between ships and major land transportation networks, creating a more central distribution point. Inland ports can improve the movement of imports and exports, moving the time-consuming sorting and processing of containers inland, away from congested seaports.
Examples of inland waterways
Examples of "inland ports" in the first, wide usage are