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What is an Inland Port?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated: May 17, 2024

An inland port can be one of two things, both of which are related to shipping and freight. Historically, these ports were located on rivers, lakes, or other inland waterways. Some of these facilities can service large vessels, while others require cargo to be transferred to smaller ships before being sent up the canal or river. Another use of this term refers to a facility that performs many of the same functions as a port, despite being located away from any bodies of water at all. These are typically shipping and logistical centers that allow modular freight from ocean vessels to be transferred between trucks, rail, and other means of conveyance.

A traditional inland port is located on a navigable body of water, such as a lake or a river, while facilities with direct ocean access via a saltwater body such as a sound or a bay are simply referred to as ports. Some large, crucial ports are located very far inland and accessed by rivers that have been dredged or otherwise modified to allow shipping access. Lock systems and canals may also be employed to move larger vessels further inland.

Other inland port cities service traffic that never leaves a river or lake system. Some large rivers have historically been very important means of facilitating trade through shipping. Large lakes or inland seas have also been widely used for shipping. The Great Lakes system in the United States contains about 20% of all the liquid fresh water in the world, and has a number of significant inland port cities. Commerce between these inland ports was especially important prior to the development of overland freight systems.

Inland port also refers to a special type of shipping and logistics facility. These so-called ports can perform many of the same functions of a wet port without any access to water. Modular freight can allow for the same shipping containers carried by ocean vessels to be transported directly to tractor trailers. Inland ports can then serve as a location for this type of modular freight to be transferred between trucks or to other methods of conveyance, such as trains.

When functioning as a logistics facility, the inland port also performs various processing and receiving functions. If modular containers are sent directly to one of these facilities, they may not be inspected at the wet port. Customs and other checks may be carried out exclusively at the inland facility. The shifting of these types of functions to inland ports can free up valuable waterfront space for more shipping capacity or other uses.

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