Intermodal transportation: 4 best practices.

December 18, 2016

When considering freight shipping options, it’s common for shippers’ minds to go straight to trucks, especially when sending goods domestically. However, intermodal can be the right choice in certain scenarios. While the scenarios that call for intermodal transportation may vary, a few best practices remain in place throughout the process. 

Here are four actions all intermodal shippers should take prior to committing:

  • Learn about the benefits
  • Identify the opportunity 
  • Package properly 
  • Consult with a freight service provider


1. Learn about the benefits.

Domestic intermodal transport typically consists of an intermodal container being moved by a truck to the rail, then a truck again to the final destination. Before booking an intermodal shipment, you must first understand all the benefits the option offers. First, rail transportation requires a much lower amount of fuel to be burned than truck transport. As a result, you’ll realize lower fuel costs and a positive impact on the environment. 

Next, as the rail system continues to evolve in the United States, Canada and Mexico, shippers from all across North America are seeing opportunities for intermodal transportation to more destinations. 

Lastly, rail transport is very similar to highway travel in terms of ride quality. As a result, shippers can book an intermodal shipment with confidence that their freight is unlikely to be damaged while in transit. 


2. Identify the opportunity. 

After you’ve absorbed the benefits, it’s now time to understand when the time is right to ship via intermodal. Many shippers immediately look to truckload and less than truckload (LTL) options when booking shipments, overlooking intermodal in the process. However, shipping via rail can be a great way to consolidate freight and save money. 

For example, if you’re sending multiple LTL shipments to the same location throughout the week, you are likely missing out on an intermodal opportunity. While many shippers believe LTL to be a quicker option, the now expansive railway system allows your freight to travel seamlessly to its destination without hitting common trucking snags like construction or other forms of roadway congestion. With careful planning and some scheduling flexibility, shippers can easily see significant cost savings and get their freight to the destination on time. This fuel efficiency also translates into a greener, more environmentally friendly way to move cargo, which many shippers are looking for. 

Additionally, many of today’s organizations are being challenged to reduce their carbon footprint. Did you know that one ton of freight can be moved more than 470 miles by rail on a single gallon of fuel? If you’re looking for more scenarios that make intermodal the ideal shipping option, take a look at this post


3. Packaging.

From pick up to delivery, intermodal shipments do not typically leave their container. However, during the intermodal transportation process, the container will move from a truck, to rail, then back to a truck. All of this movement makes it important to package your goods with care. 

Blocking and bracing techniques should be utilized to secure the freight and keep the movement inside the container to a minimum. When preparing a container to be shipped, be sure to distribute the weight of the shipment evenly across the container (do not stack freight on one end of the container), keep the freight from moving side to side by loading the container with filler products as needed and prevent the freight from moving front to back. Freight can be held in its place within the container with floor blocking products. 

Following these steps is critical to ensuring the goods arrive at their destination in the same condition that they were sent. 


4. Consult with a freight service provider.

If you choose to work with a freight service provider, you’ll have the opportunity to collaborate with a dedicated customer service team and account representative throughout the intermodal process. Before choosing a freight service provider, be sure they have the capabilities to negotiate rates with all eight Class 1 railroads. 


Final thoughts.

Don’t let the fear of the unknown keep you away from intermodal transportation. By following a few best practices and doing some research, you may be able to realize significant cost savings by taking shipments to the railways. Contact us today to discover more about next steps.


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