The Ship of Things to Come: How did Roll-on / Roll-off Shipping start?

The Ship of Things to Come: How did Roll-on / Roll-off Shipping start?

Posted On : 22 Jul 2018


An education of the rolling cargo and maritime shipping history


How did Roll-on / Roll-off Shipping start? — In mid-19th century Scotland, the first roll-on/roll-off (roro) ships first sailed, ferrying steam trains, then in its nascent stages, across bodies of water—rivers— an event which revolutionized container shipping forever.

The idea was simple: the train rolls on to the ship, sails to another berth, and rolls off again. Some cargo were simply too wide to be transported through bridges, inefficient no doubt. Therefore, specially designed ships equipped with rails allow the seamlessness that was not as commonplace in those days.


Shipping is an important activity throughout human history, especially when economic progress depended primarily on international and regional trade. Until the 1950s, transporting automobiles and other larger goods across the sea had to load and unload it by crane—load-on/load-off—onto traditional ocean freight vessels, a time-consuming, costly, and somewhat risky procedure. Increasing demand for motor vehicles due to the growing need for motor transport had to be addressed using a goods movement system that took lesser time than methods that were present. The solution was obvious—the ship that began with the transport of steam trains that carried over to the design of the tank landing craft configuration developed during the Second World War.


Rolling cargo has come a long way. The roro ship remains as one of the most successful way to ship cars to this day, more than two centuries since its first use. Its adaptability and ability to integrate with other transport systems and speed of operation has made it the choice means of transporting goods on many shipping routes. It still remains the most efficient and practical means of maritime shipping especially for larger volumes of cargo.

Roro shipping was inarguably the most advantageous and practicable way to aid in the quick transport of goods where they were most needed. In fact, transportation has been called “one of the four cornerstones of globalization, along with communications, international standardization, and trade liberalization,” according to the International Transport Forum. An efficient transport system is the hallmark of any developed country and one of the major factors that usher globalization.


It is the vital link to land and air—a link that made most sense.

Stay tuned next week for The Ship of Things to Come (A Series) discussing past, present, and future of maritime transportation.