Intermodal terminals are moving towards semi-automation and/or full automation despite some elements of automation already existing in most ports, mainly in the stack operations.
The desire to automate exists in the intermodal world as it does in the port industry and the challenges of operating a terminal are very much the same in both industries.
The reason intermodal terminals are behind in introducing automation is manual interaction of personnel at the loading operation is still common. Some of the essential tasks which need to be performed by manual labour are the handling of the Inter Box Connector (IBC) between the two tiers of container on a rail car, the rail car inspection or maintenance taking place in the terminal at the processing or loading track.
Furthermore, there are restrictions in regard to the rail operation as a suspended load is never allowed to be moved above people, locomotives and trucks. All these exemptions from an unmanned operation, which exists in a container stack, make it impossible to fence off the operation area in an intermodal yard for automation in the way it has been done in container stacks.
For more on this topic also read Leiler’s previous paper: Stack Operations in an Intermodal Rail Terminal Using RTGs.