An articulation node is a location that promotes the continuity of circulation in a transportation system by supporting transport chains and providing the added value that such flows require. It is an interface, a gateway, between different spatial systems (e.g. global market and regional economy) that includes terminal facilities, but also the numerous activities linked with these facilities. For passenger transport chains, this could involve hotels, parking lots, restoration, and access to local transportation. They tend to be simple in function.
For freight transport chains, which are more complex, it concerns activities such as distribution centers, warehouses, and third-party logistics providers. The agglomeration of terminal and related added value activities takes the form of a cluster such as a port complex or an aerotropolis.
The different scales and functions of articulation nodes are linked with different transport terminals. Major international articulation nodes are associated with port and airport terminals, while regional articulation points nodes to be linked with inland transport terminals, such as rail, along a corridor. If it connects a global and a regional system of circulation through intermodalism the articulation node acts as a gateway. If it connects the same geographical scales, such as two regional systems of circulation, within the same mode then the articulation node acts as a hub.
Conventionally, geographical factors linked to the site and situation of terminals (especially for maritime terminals) influenced the location of articulation nodes. Around these facilities agglomerated many freight handling and distribution activities and served as a core to urban areas. The emergence of intermodal transportation systems reinforces articulation nodes as major locations of convergence and transshipment and has modified their geography with increased locational flexibility. While major terminals have expanded and relocated to more peripheral locations, namely port facilities, many distribution centers have relocated even further away along corridors.