The maritime / land interface concerns the relationships between maritime and inland freight distribution, which are two domains of freight circulation. Maritime shipping is entirely dependent on the performance of inland freight distribution as it ensures continuity in supply chains. While economic activities, such as production and retailing, are built on the concept of interdependency, distribution is a derived outcome of this interdependency. The maritime / land interface is particularly important for long-distance trade brought by globalization. Thus, the growing distances at which freight is being carried in addition to a surge in freight volumes have created multiplying effects on the ability of the maritime / land interface to deal with this new environment. There are four major functional elements that define the maritime / land interface:
- Foreland. Although conventionally, the foreland is a maritime space with which a port performs commercial relationships, it can be argued that maritime shipping networks are a more valid representation of the concept of the foreland. The network represents the level of service offered by maritime shipping companies in terms of port calls, capacity, and frequency.
- Port system. The set of intermodal infrastructures servicing port operations. Focus on gateways granting access to large domains on inland freight circulation.
- Modes. Each mode has technical constraints and is positioned to service specific inland markets effectively. They are structured as corridors accessing the hinterland and inland hubs acting as intermodal and transmodal centers. Inland modes represent one of the most difficult challenges in terms of reconciling the surge in containerized maritime volume and the capacity of inland transportation to accommodate these flows. There is a growing asymmetry between maritime transport and inland modes.
- Hinterland. Although the hinterland is the inland space, a port maintains commercial relations with, the emergence of supply chain management has placed the inland port at the core of hinterland transportation. Macro-economic factors linked with economic globalization have become particularly important to explain the dynamics of hinterlands.
The maritime / land interface can also take many transactional forms related to the exchange of freight and information. There is a trend involving the growing level of integration between maritime transport and inland freight transport systems. Until recently, these systems evolved separately but the development of intermodal transportation and deregulation provided new opportunities which in turn significantly impacted both maritime and inland logistics. One particular aspect concerns high inland transport costs, since they account anywhere between 40% and 80% of the total costs of container shipping, depending on the transport chain. Under such circumstances, there is a greater involvement of maritime actors (e.g. port holdings) in inland transport systems.
The maritime / land interface thus appears to be increasingly blurred. Corridors are becoming the main structure behind inland accessibility and through which port terminals gain access to inland distribution systems serviced by inland ports. Since transshipment is a fundamental component of intermodal transportation, the maritime / land interface relies on improving terminals activities along those corridors. Strategies are increasingly relying on the control of distribution channels to ensure an unimpeded circulation of containerized freight.