Container Terminals: All That You Need to Know About Them

Container terminals, also known as container ports, refer to the facilities that allow shipping containers to change modes of transport needed to arrive at their final destination.

Usually, a single ship delivers goods to a container port, where they are distributed to multiple modes of conveyance for distribution to customers. There are also areas within the facilities for the temporary storage of the containers. These facilities are also responsible for their maintenance. Many a time, loading, unloading, and storage of the goods within the containers are also done here. 

The function of the container terminal in the shipping process

These container ports are positioned strategically as vital nodes in a complex logistic network. Maritime terminals look after the transfer of a container from a ship to rail or road conveyances and canal barges and vice versa. They are mainly a part of a bigger port, the biggest of which is situated near major harbors. When the process of loading happens between road and rail in a facility, it is called an inland container terminal. These facilities are usually located in or near large cities and possess excellent rail connectivity that connects the rail with the maritime containers.  

Container terminal and its operational process

When a ship arrives at a port, the containers are deboarded using quay cranes. The cranes then move the containers from the deck of the ocean vessel to automated guided vehicles (AGVs). These vehicles take the containers and stack them for temporary storage. When the waiting period of this stage of the terminal operation is over, the AGVs move the containers from the stack with the aid of cranes and transport them to their next mode of conveyance. These may include deep-sea vessels, barges, trains, or trucks. 

When export containers are loaded onto a ship, the preceding steps are performed in reverse order. 

Classification of container terminals

Depending on the ownership of shipping lines, ports, operators, and carriers, the container ports are divided into five distinct categories. 

  • State-run terminals

The facilities of these terminals are equally shared by all shipping companies. They operate on a first-come, first-served basis. A standard tariff rate for handling the containers and other relevant charges is applicable to all.

  • Carrier-lease dedicated terminals

This type of container terminal came into being with the collaboration between significant port authorities and shipping lines. It resulted in the execution of long-term leasing agreements, and the terminals are used exclusively by these carriers.

  • Terminal constructed by operators

Here, the direct investors (who look after the operations, construction, and handling of the facility) are the terminal operators. 

  • Carrier-dominated terminal

Various carriers lease a container terminal by paying in advance to the port authority.

  • A joint venture of the terminal and carrier operators

Sometimes, terminal operators and several shipping lines establish a firm to operate the terminals jointly.


We have developed technologically and have put to use that advancement in operating these terminals. Many of the functions are now automated, which has made the terminal operation much easier than it was in the earlier days.