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Container Yards, Terminals & Depots: What Is The Difference?

When dealing with freight that uses more than one mode of transport to reach it’s destination (multi-modal), there are three major locations that a container may encounter: container depots, container terminals and container yards. Owing to similar sounding names, there can sometimes be confusion around the role each one performs in the life cycle of a container’s journey.

Becoming familiar with such industry terminology is critical to effective communication, both between partners inside the industry, and in interactions with clients — undeniably an important element in achieving successful outcomes.

In this post we will define the role of each and examine the basic differences between them:

Depots

To understand what depots do, it is important to understand that not all containers comprise of freight sent and received by just one party — often, cargo from multiple parties’ will be transported together. This method of shipment is referred to as LCL (less-than-container load).

Rather than a container visiting each supplier individually, cargo is delivered to a central facility, called a depot. Here, the freight can be carefully packed and consolidated into a container by agents externally contracted by the shipping line, reducing confusion and avoiding the potential for damage or theft of goods by one of the other suppliers.

Likewise, when the shipment reaches it’s destination, it must pass through a depot, where the container can be deconsolidated back into individual shipments, ready for pickup.

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Terminals

Whenever a container is changed from one method of transport to another, it is referred to as ‘changing the mode’, and a container terminal is any location where this change takes place — for instance, a container that is being hauled on the roads by a truck can then be placed onto a train and travel by rail.

As you might expect, if a shipment requires multiple mode changes on its journey, it will interact with multiple different container terminals.

Yards

Container yards, quite simply, are areas of storage for empty containers. After a container has been deconsolidated at a depot (or unloaded directly by the importer), they are relocated to a yard where they are stored until their next assignment.