Ever since globalization transformed the transport sector, national boundaries have become permeable to penetration by trade, creating the need for flexible transport solutions. Intermodalism and containerization were the by-products of this era and were poised to metamorphosize transport of "general cargo", moving it 'seamlessly' through sea and land arteries. Forty years ago, the physical process of exporting or importing goods was arduous. Goods needed to be transported by lorry to the port, unloaded into a warehouse and then reloaded into the ship 'piece by piece'.
Malcolm McLean's idea of containerization changed the basics of cargo transport by standardizing the dimensions of the container and simultaneously improving the productivity of ports by mechanizing handling of container-carrying 'cellular' ships and reducing their handling to a few hours only. Unitisation helped elimination of multiple handling of cargo and made transfers quick, cheap and easy. As containerization came to stand for 'cargo care', it grew by leaps and bounds the world over.
strategic initiative to containerize cargo transport put India on the multi-modal map for the first time in 1966. Given the continental distances in India (almost 3000 km from North to South and East to West), rail transport could be the cheaper option for all cargo over medium and long distances, especially if the cost of inter-modal transfers could be reduced. Containerized multi-modal door-to-door transport provided the ideal solution to this problem. It was this idea that saw the Indian Railways entering the market for moving door-to-door domestic cargo in special DSO containers starting in 1966.
Though the first ISO marine container had been handled in India at Cochin as early as 1973, it was in 1981 that the first ISO container was moved inland by the Indian Railways to India's first Inland Container Depot (ICD) at Bangaluru, also managed by the Indian Railways.
Expansion of the network to 7 ICDs by 1988 saw increase in the handling of containers, and along the way, a strong view had emerged that there was a need to set up a separate pro-active organization for promoting and managing the growth of containerization in India.