Intermodal Transportation: Everything You Need to Know

Freight shipping has been around long before modern day trucks were. We know throughout history that trains and ships have been a major factor in transportation services and we are still heavily dependent on them to this day. In fact, even with the trucking industry in full swing, freight from these other sources often go hand in hand with trucking to get the shipments to their final destination. This is where intermodal transportation comes into play. Intermodal transportation is the involvement of two or more different modes of transportation being used in the process of transporting goods. In this article we will be covering more in depth on what intermodal transportation is, what the benefits are, the cost, and how to know if it is the right choice for your needs.


What is Intermodal Transportation?

As we covered above, Intermodal transportation is the involvement of two or more modes of transportation being used in the process of moving goods from one place to another. Trucking is often the best bet for getting items to their final destination but prior to that depending if the items are going across the country or across the ocean, trucking may not be the most efficient shipping method available. For this reason shippers will often use multiple modes of freight transport to get the items where they need to go for the best price and in the best time. Intermodal freight can include air cargo, ocean freight, and of course train freight.


What Are the Benefits of Intermodal Transportation?

Intermodal transportation can have it’s benefits to shippers over just using one mode of transportation. For one, delivery time is always a factor and seems to become more and more pressing in today’s world. We can only expect this demand to continue to grow as humans grow more dependent on instant gratification. That desire is not likely to go away anytime soon. Trucking is an excellent method for shipping cargo, however, we know they are at the mercy of the public roadways, where planes and trains have a much less limited path and are often able to go faster with fewer stops before the destination. Because of the time savings you can also account for a reduction in emissions from a truck that would still be on the road driving or sitting in traffic. This smaller carbon footprint is a fantastic big picture advantage in addition to the pricing.


Intermodal Transportation Costs

Let’s cut right to the chase in regards to pricing because that is what you really want to know. The good news here is that intermodal does tend to be cheaper depending on OTR or over the road freight shipping. In addition to cheaper overall freight rates there can be other savings factors such as the ability to take on larger loads at once and being much less hindered by inclement weather. Even in bad weather rail freight will still be able to keep the shipment moving.

On average this cost savings can run 10 to 15 cents cheaper per mile than that of a single contract for OTR shipping. With that being said there can be other fees that will affect that overall cost if you do not plan accordingly such as storage fees.


How Do You Know When Intermodal Transportation is the Right Choice?

So the big question is, how do you know when intermodal freight transportation is the right choice for your shipping process? Well, you have to factor several things into the equation here but in a simplified sense you need to look at your shipment and see if multimodal transport is justified for the distance and transit times. Are you just shipping a single truckload worth or enough cargo that would be better suited for an intermodal shipment. For large shipments going a fair distance from door to door, then multiple modes of transportation or intermodal shipping is often a good choice. Especially if you are dealing with larger shipments from a supply chain vs portioned LTL shipments, the intermodal containers can be a great option especially since you are able to double-stack them as rail cars.

On the opposite side of the equation, when we compare intermodal vs over the road shipping and other modes of transport, we also see that we have been experiencing a driver shortage in North America. Intermodal services have been ready and able to pick up the slack of road transport in the industry to keep you freight shipments in motion.

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