Conventional freight terminals tended to have a small surface due to smaller ship sizes and the possibility to transship directly from the ship to land conveyances (e.g. trucks or rail cars) and vice-versa. This was made possible by the slow loading / unloading process as mechanization was limited, and most operations were improvised depending on the availability of stevedore labor and the nature of the cargo being transshipped. Still, the number of piers could be extensive since ships were spending much more time at ports.
Containerization rests on large terminal surfaces as the large volumes being carried by ship cannot be immediately reconciled with inland operations. Transshipment is thus indirect with a temporal and spatial modal separation. Terminal operations are also highly dependent on machinery (e.g. cranes), all of which require extensive organization and management.