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Intermodal Shipping Explained

Intermodal freight transportation is a combination of different transportation modes such as rail, ocean, and trucking, to move goods from the shipper to the shipment’s final destination. The freight is moved in a container or vehicle without handling the freight when changing modes. Shippers usually use intermodal transportation to move freight over distances greater than 800 kilometers. Additionally, intermodal transportation is best suited for intermediate and finished goods with a net weight under 20,000 tons.

How Does Intermodal Transportation Work?

Intermodal freight transportation implies moving cargo a long distance using two or more shipping modes. When using intermodal shipping, every stage of transportation is arranged and signed with a different carrier, which means there will be several bills. Shippers usually use intermodal shipping as way to save costs, or when there’s a need to ship freight across an ocean, because the container is being loaded and transported through rail or barge, then loaded onto the truck that transports it to the final destination. However, there are short-distance last-mile shipments, called drayage shipments. This is the final transportation of a container from a loading dock or from the port to the ultimate destination.

What’s the Difference Between Intermodal & Multimodal?

The primary difference between intermodal and multimodal freight transportation is billing. In simple words, intermodal is when you combine several carriers under separate bills of lading. For multimodal, the transportation is either handled by a single carrier, or several carriers are signed under the single bill of lading.

The Benefits of Intermodal Transport

Cost-effective: Intermodal transportation generally offers lower rates, predictable pricing, and flexibility. The longer the haul, the more likely you’ll be to find cost savings through intermodal. Freight moving anything longer than a day on over the road, could be a strong candidate. If the origin and destination cities are close to major metros, chances are that they are also close to rail ramps and/or ports, which drives intermodal costs down.

Time Savings: Is your freight time-sensitive? Typical intermodal transit is truckload transit, plus a day when the lane is within one railroad’s network. If the overall move requires shipment to interchange between multiple railroads, this can increase by another one to two days. However, longer delays due to track or ramp congestion, weather, or track conditions are quite common.

Optimize Driver Capacity: Intermodal transportation is a smart selection when cargo flow must be regular/recurring and in similar quantities. If your shipper sends out several of the same LTL shipment each month, it may be worth comparing costs and service levels to that of intermodal.

Why Use Intermodal?

Intermodal shipping can be a very beneficial way to move freight over long distances for cost savings. Shippers who regularly send the similar amounts of LTL shipments for more than 800 kilometers will appreciate the most benefits of intermodal freight. Also, intermodal implies more accountability and responsibility of carriers, since there is a separate bill of lading for every part of the shipping process.

Furthermore, shippers can significantly reduce their carbon footprint by switching to intermodal shipping. Moving one ton of freight one kilometer via rail can reduce CO2 emissions by 83%.

Intermodal shipping also gives you access to more equipment and standardized transit schedules. Intermodal transportation tends to be safer and more secure for cargo, because there’s no touch from the driver and container doors remain secured and out of reach during transit. Also, other than being on a fixed track, there are specific blocking and bracing requirements that ensure the product can’t shift in transit if followed correctly.

We can provide any type of intermodal freight transportation regardless of the complexity. Dry, refrigerated/frozen, hazardous, tanker endorsed, high value, or specialized in any way, we have a large network of highly experienced IMC’s to service it all. Contact us or get a quote today.

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