Intermodal shipping defined
Intermodal shipping is when two or more modes of freight, such as truck and rail, are used to transport goods to their final destination. The intermodal process typically begins with a container being hauled by a truck to the railyard, then moving long-distance via rail, before being moved back to a truck to complete the process.
Gain flexibility and competitive pricing for your business with near real-time intermodal transportation rates and reliable capacity when you need it most—all from Freightquote®.
Benefits of intermodal shipping with Freightquote®
- Receive instant quotes on most intermodal lanes
- Optimize routing and minimize your carbon footprint
- Obtain consistently competitive intermodal freight rates
- Ship from the Atlantic to the Pacific—and everywhere in between
- Access additional equipment when truckload capacity becomes tight
- Include additional services, like drop trailer, to meet your business needs
When to consider intermodal transportation
The nature of your cargo, distance, cost, environmental impact, and transportation infrastructure are all considerations when deciding if intermodal shipping is the right choice for your specific logistics needs. Here are five situations where intermodal shipping truly adds value:
1. Shipping long-distance: Intermodal shipping is often most cost-effective for long-distances. By utilizing different modes of transportation, it can leverage the strengths of each mode while minimizing the associated costs. For example, using trains for the bulk of the journey and trucks for the final delivery can be more economical than relying solely on trucks for the entire distance.
2. Moving heavy or bulky cargo: Trains and ships have higher weight and size capacities compared to trucks, making intermodal services more capable of accommodating oversized cargo. By using intermodal containers and specialized equipment, you can more efficiently move large and heavy items.
3. Reducing your impact: Often considered a green option, intermodal transportation via trains and ships means lower carbon emissions per ton-mile than trucks. If you have sustainability goals to meet, intermodal shipping can be a smart choice.
4. Optimize cost: Utilizing the most cost-effective modes of transportation for different legs of the journey can keep budgets on track. For example, trains and ships for long-haul transportation and trucks for short-haul delivery allow for economies of scale and more efficient use of resources—for lower costs.
5. Bypassing congested roadways: In areas prone to traffic congestion, intermodal shipping can provide a reliable alternative. With trains and ships, which have dedicated infrastructure and can bypass road congestion, you can reduce the risk of delays and ensure timely delivery of your goods.
Three intermodal shipping best practices
- 1. Identify the opportunity: Sending multiple LTL shipments to the same destination several times a week? Intermodal can be a solid choice that also helps reduce your organization’s carbon footprint.
- 2. Package carefully: While intermodal shipments do not typically leave the container between the shipping origin and destination, the container experience quite a bit of movement during the journey. Block and brace your cargo to help prevent damage to your freight.
- 3. Work with a freight service provider: The ability to negotiate rates with Class 1 railroads is critically important. Team up with Freightquote intermodal transportation experts for a less stressful process from start to finish.
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Intermodal shipping FAQ
What is the difference between intermodal and multimodal transportation?
Multimodal and intermodal services are similar in that they both involve the freight transportation using two or more modes of transportation. However, there is a primary difference. For intermodal shipments, each mode has a separate carrier and contract, while multimodal delivers a single contract or bill of lading despite using two or more modes of transport.
What is drayage service?
Freight moving over short distances—typically in the same metro area—are most likely to require drayage services. These types of solutions involve the movement of intermodal freight from one location, such as a port, railyard, or distribution center, to another, such as a warehouse or the freight’s final destination.
What type of freight solution do I need?
There are many factors to consider when determining which shipping solution meets your needs. Connect with dedicated freight experts for help finding the right solution for you.