| Written by Mark Buzinkay

Efficiency commonly refers to the operational performance of ports and the maximization of the produced output with given resources or the production of a given output with limited possible resources. Infrastructure plays an essential part in defining container terminal efficiency.
Container Terminal Infrastructure

No video selected

Select a video type in the sidebar.

Ports are a vital link in the global supply chain, and their efficiency directly impacts the flow of goods worldwide. Given the current state of the economy, it is more important than ever for ports to maximize their efficiency in order to remain competitive.

Several factors contribute to port efficiency, including container terminal infrastructure. In order to drive efficiency gains in container handling, port operators need to invest in modern infrastructure designed to streamline operations. This may include automated cranes, advanced yard management systems, and other technological solutions. By investing in state-of-the-art infrastructure, ports can improve their efficiency and better meet the needs of their customers.

Learn more about optimizing container terminal logistics!

In addition to investing in modern container terminal infrastructure, port operators must also focus on optimizing their operations. This may involve implementing best practices in areas such as yard management, vessel turnaround, and cargo handling. By taking a holistic approach to efficiency, ports can ensure they can meet the demands of the global marketplace.

Container terminal infrastructure is just one part of the puzzle regarding port efficiency. However, it is an important piece that should not be overlooked. By investing in modern infrastructure and optimizing their operations, port operators can drive significant efficiency gains and remain competitive in the global marketplace.


Container Terminal Infrastructure

A container terminal is a complex, interconnected system of intermodal equipment to perform its operations. This system includes the yard, the marine waterways and equipment to move containers from and to the vessels. Equipment includes straddle carriers, gantry cranes, and ship-to-shore cranes. The choice of equipment and its mix is related to several factors in terms of capital investment, volume, stacking density, and productivity.

The most crucial equipment in this system is the crane, which is used to load and unload containers from ships. Two main cranes are used in container terminals: ship-to-shore cranes (STS) and rubber-tired gantry cranes (RTG). STS cranes are used strictly for loading and unloading containerships, while RTG cranes can be used for loading and unloading containers from ships and stacking them in the yard.

Other vital pieces of equipment used in container terminals include straddle carriers, forklifts, and front-end loaders. Straddle carriers move containers around the terminal yard while forklifts and front-end loaders load and unload containers from railcars and trucks.

A short overview of the equipment includes the following assets:

  • The forklift The most basic piece of intermodal equipment but can handle only loaded 20-foot containers.
  • The holstler truck: Moves containers loaded on chassis within terminals. A chassis is a trailer designed to securely carry a container with twist locks, allowing road transportation outside the terminal.
  • The straddle carrier: A flexible vehicle that can be used for all intermodal operations, such as loading/loading railcars and trucks and stacking containers up to three in height. Straddle carriers are often used to move containers from piers to stacks.
  • The front-end loader: Reaches up to three full container stacks and be used for double-stack intermodal rail operations.
  • The reach stacker: Flexible truck equipment performing intermodal operations for rail and trucks and stacking containers.
  • The rubber-tired gantry (RTG): Is fixed and is used for loading and unloading railcars from trucks in high-density terminals. It is also used for stacking operations to manage densities of up to 1,000 TEU per hectare with stacks of up to four full or five empty containers.
  • The rail-mounted gantry (RMG): Similar to the RTG. While they are mainly used at port terminals for operations over large container stacks, new intermodal rail terminals increasingly rely on RMGs to perform intermodal operations over a series of train tracks.
  • The ship-to-shore crane (STS) is a gantry crane strictly used to load and unload containerships and comes in different sizes based upon the ship class they can accommodate. Containers have to be brought to the STS by holsters using chassis, bomb carts or straddle carriers.


Efficient Container Terminal Infrastructure

A container terminal is a facility where cargo containers are transloaded between different modes of transportation. A container terminal improves efficiency by reducing the time and cost associated with transferring goods between different modes of transportation.

In order to maximize efficiency, it is essential to have a well-designed container terminal infrastructure. This includes factors such as the layout of the equipment, the use of automation, and the management of traffic flow.

An efficient container terminal will have a layout that allows for easy movement of containers. This means that there is enough space between equipment and no obstacles in the way. The use of automation can also help to reduce congestion and improve traffic flow. Automated systems handle containers, loading and unloading ships, and managing information.

The management of traffic flow is another critical factor in driving efficiency gains. This includes ensuring that there are enough entry and exit points, that vehicles are properly spaced out, and that there are no bottlenecks. In addition, moving containers around the terminal will be easier by managing traffic flow effectively and reducing congestion.

The ongoing automation of intermodal terminals replaces the manually operated conventional equipment with semi or fully-automated improvements. This is particularly the case for STS, gantries, and straddle carriers, which can be remotely controlled - and using PDS. Read more about Position Detection System in ports.


"Optimising the performance of container terminal equipment is essential for minimising delays, cutting costs, and maximising throughput."

Elisa Rouhiainen, VP Sales Marine & Ports



The Importance of Traffic Flow Management for Container Terminal Efficiency

Managing traffic flows in an efficient way is critical to optimising container terminal operations. These include moving containers, vehicles, and equipment within the terminal, coordinating vessel loading and unloading, storage, and onward transport by truck and rail.

Ports are complex environments where numerous activities take place simultaneously. Poor traffic management can lead to congestion and longer turnaround times. In contrast, efficient management of traffic increases container throughput, which is the main concern of terminals. Strategic organisation of the movement of containers and vehicles is an absolute must, especially during peak periods.

A key component of traffic flow management is the terminal's design, for example, clearly defined vehicle lanes and strategically placed storage areas for the different containers (import/export, transhipment, empty containers, reefers). If the layout is logically organised, unnecessary moves are reduced, and containers flow smoothly from ships to storage areas and for onward transport to the hinterland.

Of course, the planning and coordination of ship arrivals and departures, as well as yard operations, is also of the utmost importance. This includes planning the ship loading and unloading sequence, truck arrivals, and coordinating rail services. If planned properly, overlaps can be avoided, and resources can be allocated according to needs.

Collecting a large amount of real-time data on the location of vehicles and container movements makes it possible to change traffic flows at short notice. By analysing this data, various scenarios can be understood to optimise future traffic flows.

Automation solutions contribute to increased efficiency on various levels. For example, external trucks can easily be integrated into your system by attaching a tag to the vehicle. This means that the drivers of these trucks can enjoy the same operational benefits as your employees while the control room has the same real-time overview of vehicles outside its fleet.


Container Terminal Infrastructure: Technology trends and outlook

Container terminals constantly evolve to keep up with the latest technology and trends. Some of the key characteristics of the future container terminal may include technology advancement, infrastructure resiliency, multigeneration terminal operations, and sustainability.

Technology advancement is one of the most important aspects of a future container terminal. With ships' size ever-increasing, terminals may need the conveyance systems and wharves necessary to accommodate them. Additionally, automated or semiautomated electrified tractors, trains, trucks, and ships will help increase efficiency and decrease turnaround times.

Infrastructure resiliency is another important characteristic of a future container terminal. With the increased risk of natural disasters, terminals must be designed to survive and operate with all-hazard protection. Sensors or other technology can be used to provide advance warning of natural disasters, allowing port operators to take evasive action.

Multigeneration terminal operation is another key trend for the future. Smart artificial intelligence controls that fully integrate all port operations will help to increase efficiency and decrease turnaround times. In addition, on-demand cargo pickup using technology like that for on-demand car services will further add to the convenience of using a container terminal.

Finally, sustainability is an essential consideration for future container terminals. Green technology throughout the supply chain can minimize environmental and community impacts. Additionally, reduced community impacts can be achieved through holistic, integrated logistics chain planning with stakeholders.

As carriers get larger, ships will need to increase, and landside port terminal automation will need to complement this increase to improve efficiencies. In addition, the largest ships are likely to bypass smaller, underfunded port facilities, forcing them to reorient to niche or specialized trades to avoid decline.



Container terminal efficiency is one of the three components of port performance, the other two being effectiveness and resilience. Efficiency commonly refers to the operational performance of ports and the maximization of the produced output with given resources or the production of a given output with limited possible resources. Infrastructure plays an essential part in defining container terminal efficiency.

Whitepaper PDF Instant Download

Dive deeper into one of our core topics: Smart Port

Note: This article was updated on the 18th of June 2024



Mark Buzinkay, Head of Marketing

Mark Buzinkay holds a PhD in Virtual Anthropology, a Master in Business Administration (Telecommunications Mgmt), a Master of Science in Information Management and a Master of Arts in History, Sociology and Philosophy. Mark