Intermodal and Multimodal Transportation: What’s the Best Option For Your Business?

This post was last updated on May 17th, 2022

When it comes to delivering your goods to the other side of Canada or even to the other side of the world, shipping through several transportation modes comes naturally as the answer to overcome natural barriers, be cheaper or even faster.

However, did you know that there are several ways to proceed?

Let’s explore the differences between multimodal and intermodal shipping to see which is best for your needs!

What is Known as Multimodal Transportation?

The premises of multimodal transport

According to research work on “Multimodal Transport Law and Operations” produced by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, an early version of the multimodal concept was first introduced in the United Kingdom in the mid 19th century.

The Birmingham & Derby Railway company started to transfer rail containers to horse carriage as an alternative to the single-mode transport systems dominant at the time.

What is multimodal transportation?

Multimodal transportation, as its Latin etymology could let us think, is the use of several (“multi”) modes of transport (“modal”) to ship cargo from point A to a final destination.

A multimodal shipment is often managed by a multimodal transport operator (MTO), which are transportation companies that have access to different shipping modes of transportation.

Today, multimodal transportation is used extensively worldwide for both international and domestic freight movement because it offers significant cost savings compared with other methods of transporting goods over long distances or across borders to a different country.

What is the specificity of multimodal services?

In multimodal transportation services, there is only a single contract that covers the entire journey of the cargo from origin to destination.

This means the multimodal operator you will contract will handle the freight from A to Z as a single carrier.

What are examples of multimodal transport?

Multimodal shipping can include sea, rail, road, or air freight and ensure a port-to-door service.

What are the pros of multimodal shipping?

As the contract is handled by one carrier only, this service can sometimes lower transportation costs.

How so? Think about the fact that you can negotiate a combined transport bill for the total shipping cost and don’t have to pay the different logistics coordination rates of several carriers.

Other advantages of multimodal shipping are ensuring better control over tracking, quality, and security. They are also accountable for the entire carriage. Indeed, you are not dealing with different providers here, so everything is more straightforward to handle and monitor.

Talking logistics now, the fact the contracted carrier handles everything on the supply chain, they have a clear organization and view of the pick-up and transfer of the goods from one mode of transportation to another. This can also show a faster delivery time.

Multimodal transport coordination is just very streamlined and effective.

What about intermodal transportation?

What is intermodal transportation?

Well, if multimodal shipping offers a wide range of logistics services with several modes of transportation, know that the concept behind intermodal transportation must be closely linked to it!

Intermodal shipping is the transportation of goods using more than one mode of transport thanks to a single container, but this time, under several contracts.

What transportation mode are used in intermodal freight transport?

Here too, the intermodal transport modes are diverse and combine the benefits of all the multiple modes of transportation.

An intermodal shipment allows businesses to move their cargo through truck, rail, air, or sea freight, with the help of multiple carriers.

What are the pros of intermodal shipping?

With intermodal transportation shipping, other advantages emerge from contracting several transport carriers.

Businesses often like intermodal services because they have more control over their shipments. They can choose which mode of transport to use on each step of the journey, and ensure their cargo ships in the most effective way.

Also, relying on multiple contracts allows you not to put all your eggs in one basket and be dependent on a single carrier. Here, you keep control over each leg of the shipment: If a carrier becomes problematic, you can quickly bounce back to find another solution.

This also means that you could eventually re-negotiate terms separately all your freight costs with each provider and maybe, get cheaper shipping bills. However, dealing with several carriers could also imply duplicate charges or services.

In addition, intermodal transport shipments are more secure and help businesses simplify inventory management by having a single container for all goods instead of multiple containers with different freight carriers.

How to optimize your intermodal shipping strategy?

If you are not sure what you are looking into, don’t lose any more time nor money, and get in touch with experts.

At RailGateway, we are full load intermodal rail shipping specialists based in Canada, and we can advise you and help you get the best rates for rail shipping. Indeed, whereas handling separate transport carrier can be confusing and require more logistics coordination, we make any rail intermodal movement easy by gathering it all under a unique solution.

We have also been working with CN and CP for a long time and are now able to offer low pooled volume prices, which reduces inventory costs and total shipping costs of our clients’ logistics.

Do you wanna have a look at how much you could win working with us? Get a free rail freight quote now!

Combined Transport Shipping Strategy: What to choose Between Intermodal and Multimodal Transport?

In the end, what differs intermodal from multimodal transportation?

Intermodal transportation can actually be seen as a subset of multimodal shipping.

Multimodal shipping goes beyond the use of several modes of transportation. It offers an added value in coordination and organization as they can offer all shipping modes under a single contract whereas intermodal shipping offers its clients the possibility to combine different carriers and contracts in order to receive a supply chain services tailored to their needs.

What to choose for your shipping strategy?

Multimodal services are more comprehensive and cover all aspects from origin to destination.

In other words, multimodal transport is the best way to go if you are looking for a one-stop shop and low organization on your part when it comes to shipping your goods, but it might come at a higher price and less safety and control of your shipments.

Intermodal transportation is a more tactical approach.

You can monitor all aspects of the cargo flow and negotiate your own terms with several carriers, which can end up to be very beneficial.

However, it’s a bit more time-consuming, can require some good logistics knowledge and organisation skills if your team organize the full intermodal journey themselves.


In the end, between multimodal and intermodal transportation, that’s your choice to make! There is no right or wrong answer.

It depends on your organization’s needs and the resources you have to handle the logistics to go over several contracts or not.

Another solution we haven’t talked about is hiring an agent or shipping experts who will work on several shipping freight contracts for you.

If you’re ready to make the jump and conquer the other side of Canada with your products without worrying about anything, make sure to request a quote on our website for our full load intermodal rail shipping services. From Montreal to Vancouver, we’ve got you covered!

Transloading Vs. Intermodal Shipping: What is the Difference?

This post was last updated on March, 31st 2022

Shipping has changed quite a bit in the last few years. It’s no longer just about moving products from one place to another; transport has evolved into an entirely new realm of complexity.

In this post, we will discuss the handling of the merchandise when it comes to a shipment requiring the use of different modes of transportation.

We will then explore the differences between transloading and intermodal shipping, helping you make an informed decision on how to transport your goods!

What is transloading?

Transloading is the action of transferring goods from one mode of transportation to another by unloading the cargo and reloading it into a different container, rail car, or truck.

Major rail carriers such as CP and CN in Canada offer many dedicated locations allowing these operations.

What about transloading facilities?

A transload facility specifically handles the transloading process to load and unload cargo out and onto containers, trucks, or rail cars. They are often located near docks, rail yards, or airports.

For a look at CP’s transloading facilities and locations, visit their site here.

CN Rail also has over 31 strategically located distribution centersClick here to see their interactive map for more details.

What is transloading equipment?

There are particular transloading types of equipment used at transloading facilities that allow the handle of the process quickly, efficiently, and with low human labor involved.

The merchandise is usually palletized and then handled thanks to machines including forklifts, cranes, rail car dumpers, or conveyors, for example.

What type of merchandise can be transloaded?

Transloading can be used for different types of cargo. From bulk goods to nonperishable food or from construction, raw materials to non-regular sized items, many companies can use this method.

Whatever the industry your company is in, the best way to know if you can ship your items is to ask your freight forwarder.

What does the transloading fee cover?

Be aware that a transload fee might be applied to your final shipping invoice if you have to deliver your merchandise to multiple locations.

What does that stand for? This fee will cover the cost of de-consolidating the shipment at a warehouse and reloading them into different trucks sent to various destinations.

What is a typical transloading process?

A typical example of that logistics would be:

Step 1 – Start of the journey

A loaded freight ship, truck, or train arrives at a transloading facility with a specific container full of goods.

Step 2 – Transload of the Merchandise

Thanks to the transloading equipment and the support of handling, the cargo of this container is then unloaded into a storage warehouse and then reloaded into a different transportation mode (which can be a container on a rail car, ship, or truck) or directly transferred.

This would usually be the long-haul step of the shipment. Note that if you are shipping domestically, rail service would be the most economical, reliable, and sustainable option.

If the cargo can be transferred directly to the final destination truck or container, the delivery will be much faster and avoid supply chain delays.

Remember, if the shippers can keep the supply chains moving, the better, cheaper, and safer it is for you as a customer.

Step 3 – The optimal path to reach the final destination

If needed, your goods might have to go through another transloading facility.

The most common path is that the operators have to be moving goods onto trucks for final delivery in order to reach specific and more isolated locations.

Step 4 – The final delivery

The transloading process is complete once the goods reach their destination for the final delivery: customers or distribution center, ready for the market!

Is transloading the same as cross-docking?

Although transloading and cross-docking are similar, transloading services tend to be longer, more customized, and often imply a longer process with more steps.

Whereas a transload facility offers a larger range of services, cross-dock services mainly handle shipments to be directly moved to another truck for final delivery or very short storage.

Merchandise turnover is way quicker and often remains under 24H. Truck drivers have to be ready for their truck to be loaded and to start their journey right away. Great and fast communication is necessary.

Intermodal or Transloading services for your freight shipment?

Now that we’ve defined transloading let’s talk about intermodal shipping and its differences.

What is intermodal shipping?

Intermodal transport refers to the shipment of goods using more than one mode of transportation during the shipping process.

This could mean transporting a product by truck to a train station and then loading it onto a rail car for transport until its final destination.

But one of the main features of this shipping solution is that the load will remain in the same container all the way.

What is the difference between intermodal freight shipping and transloading?

The difference between them lies in how product movement happens at transload facilities:

In transloading, the product is unloaded from one transportation mode and reloaded into another one using a different container.

With intermodal shipping, the cargo will remain in the same intermodal container for the entire trip until it reaches its final destination. It’s the containers themselves that will be moved from one mode of transportation to another.

When to use intermodal or transloading?

Now that you know the difference, it is easier to see when each service would be best for your company’s needs.

If you have a shipment that includes different destinations, transloading might be a better option so that the cargo can be handled more efficiently and overall have more flexibility.

However, a significant disadvantage of transloading is that the container must be opened and the cargo handled and moved. This means the risks of damages, thefts, and delays are also higher.

Intermodal freight shipping can handle almost any type of cargo and is a great solution when you can ship a full container for yourself from one point to another while also being environmentally friendly with fewer emissions into our atmosphere.

Since the cargo will be in the same container, it is also easier to track and manage. Intermodal is the better option if you’re looking for a fast, cheap, and easy shipment solution and your cargo fits into a single container.


At the end of the day, each case is different, and the best way to handle your shipments will also depend on your type of products, weight, sizes, routes, ports, and much more.

To define the best solution for you, we invite you to contact us. We will be happy to answer your questions and provide you with a quote for your intermodal shipment across Canada!

Intermodal Definition: Your Go-To Guide for Terminology and Definitions

This post was last updated on March 31st, 2022

Do you know the definition of intermodal? How about breakbulk, or even drayage? If not, then this is the post for you.

We built this handy go-to guide to define and explain all the terms that anyone would need to know regarding intermodal transportation

Whether you’re a seasoned pro at intermodal shipping, just getting started in freight logistics, or want a better understanding of what intermodal means, read on!

The RailGateway Dictionary to Intermodal Transportation

20 definitions for anyone getting started in intermodal freight shipping.

One of the most challenging parts of intermodal freight transportation is that there are so many terms and acronyms to know. This can make it hard for anyone, no matter how experienced they are, to understand what’s going on. 

That’s why we created this intermodal glossary. We define all the words you need to know when working with intermodal freight transport.

* The following definitions are not in alphabetical order but rather mimic the flow of an intermodal freight shipping process.

Intermodal

The word intermodal refers to a transportation method that involves more than one form of transport during a single trip.

Intermodal broker

An intermodal broker is a company that helps shippers and receivers connect with carriers to move goods.

They act as the go-between, facilitating the process and taking a commission or fee while providing discounts and preferred rates.

Freight forwarder

A freight forwarder is a company that books shipments and manages intermodal transport.

They manage intermodal shipping logistics by providing access to rail lines, trucks, cargo vessels, and warehouses. A good intermodal partner will also provide you with regular updates on your shipment and provide additional services such as insurance for your cargo.

Consignee

The party to which freight is delivered. The consignor delivers the freight to the consignee (recipient).

Consignor (or shipper)

The individual or organization shipping freight to a consignee.

logistics workers in container shipping yard

Containerization

Containerization is a means of intermodal freight transport that uses container-sized units for handling cargo. This system allows intermodal transportation to function more smoothly.

Intermodal container

Intermodal containers are intermodal freight transport units that can be used across different modes. They’re reusable and interchangeable and come in a range of standard sizes. The most common intermodal container is the 20 ft equivalent unit (TEU).

RaileGateway specializes in 53′ and 40′ high cube dry van intermodal containers. Request your free quote here on how we can help you save on your rail transportation costs.

Container interchanges

A miscalculation can happen, and sometimes a carrier can end up with a surplus of containers at a certain location while other carriers have free space and active requirements.

In that way, a container interchange is an agreement where a carrier transfers one or more of his extra containers to be shipped onto another’s carrier vehicle.

Breakbulk

Breakbulk cargo refers to goods that are not shipped in containers. This type of cargo is usually handled and transported individually, as opposed to being consolidated into a container.

Intermodal ramp

An intermodal ramp is a loading dock at an intermodal facility that allows cargo transfer between rail or road vehicles.

When a container arrives at an intermodal ramp, it is unloaded from either the train or truck it was on to be put onto another one and be shipped to another ramp or directly to the final destination.

Intermodal vehicle

An intermodal vehicle is specially designed for intermodal transport and may include features like: multiple axles, front or rear-mounted cranes, or multiple floors, allowing for double-stacked containers.

They can either be trucks, container ships, trains, or cargo aircraft, which cover the four modes of transportation used by intermodal freight logistics companies.

Full truckload shipment

In the trucking industry, a full truckload shipment is one in which the whole vehicle is used to transport a given quantity of goods.

In intermodal rail transportation, full load is a shipment where a single shippers’ cargo is transported in the same container.

Less than truckload intermodal shipments

A less than truckload shipment is when the quantity of goods does not fill an entire truck or container (rail).

Last-mile

The last mile delivery is the final leg of a product’s journey to the customer and is typically the most expensive. With more flexibility on the road, truck drivers are usually the ones that ensure the last-mile delivery during an intermodal service.

Accessorial Charges

An accessorial charge is an additional fee included in an intermodal transport invoice by logistics companies for services over and above a standard pick-up.

They include but are not limited to storage, scale fees, and detention. Check out our blog post here for a complete guide to accessorial charges.

Drayage

This is the total cost of transporting intermodal freight containers a short distance and includes accessorial services and expenses such as receiving, loading, unloading, and other transport terminal and rail yard costs.

Dry bulk cargo

Dry bulk cargo in intermodal shipping involves the transportation of commodities such as coal and grain in large quantities. Other examples of dry bulk freight are sand, gravel, salt, sugar, cement, etc.

Raw materials

Raw material intermodal shipments often refer to dry bulk cargo.

Dangerous goods (Environmental Hazards)

A dangerous good is a cargo with special requirements regarding transport and packaging for safety reasons and environmental damage prevention.

Good to Know Intermodal Transport Acronyms

(AAR) – The Association of American Railroads

(APGCI) – Asia–Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative Canada

(ATAC) – Air Transport Association of Canada

(BTS) – Bureau of Transportation Statistics

(CAGR) – Compound Annual Growth Rate

(COFC) – Container on a flatcar

(CTA) – Canadian Transportation Agency

(CTA) – Canadian Trucking Alliance

(FTA) – Free trade agreement

(FTL) – Full truckload

(IANA) – Intermodal Association of North America

(ISO) – International Organization for Standardization. ISO is technically not an acronym. It refers to the ancient Greek term “ísos,” which means equal or equivalent to. For a complete list of ISO general purpose containers, click here.

(LTL) – Less than a full truckload

(MTO) – Multimodal transport operator

(RAC) – Railway Association of Canada

(TAC) – Transportation Association of Canada

(TEU) – Twenty-foot equivalent unit. This is a calculation based on the measurements of a 20ft standard shipping container.

(THC) – Terminal handling charges

(TOFC) – Trailer on a flat car

Intermodal Transportation: FAQs

Why is it called intermodal?

The term intermodal is derived from the Latin words “inter” (meaning between) and “modus” (meaning way). The intermodal definition can then refer to a way of moving goods easily, changing modes of transportation.

What are the four intermodal means of transportation?

Rail, water, road, and air are the four intermodal transportation means.

What are the intermodal transportation advantages?

Shipping intermodal containers using an effective and thoughtful combination of those four transportation methods for domestic and international shipments can significantly reduce costs, be more ecological, protect your cargo better, and show great fuel efficiency, especially if rail service is involved.

What is the difference between intermodal and multimodal transport?

Multimodal transport is the transportation of goods using more than one mode of transport with a single carrier. While intermodal shipping specifically refers to shipments are handled by several different shipping companies.

What is intermodal shipping vs. transloading?

Intermodal shipping is when containers are moved between trucks and trains to transfer goods. Transloading, on the other hand, involves moving individual items from one container to another between two or more modes.

What role does a cargo ship play in intermodal transportation?

Cargo ships are merchant vessels that carry goods, supplies, and materials between ports handling international shipping trade between one country and another. Ocean carriers are often the first step in the receiver’s intermodal freight journey. Or as the last step in a sender fulfilling their shipping obligations.

Why is intermodal transport necessary for economic growth in the shipping industry?

From automobiles to food to luxury items such as toys and electronics are frequently delivered via ocean freight. Maritime shipping accounts for 53% of U.S. imports and 38 percent of U.S. exports — more than any other logistics shipping method. 

Once a shipment arrives in port, it is the role and responsibility of the intermodal carrier to move and distribute products and goods effectively to prevent congestion and delays.  

Want to know more about RailGateway? Looking for a competitive intermodal freight transportation quote? Request your FREE, no-obligation offer here.

Intermodal Freight Transportation: The Safest Way to Ship Your Goods

This post was last updated on March 31st, 2022

Sending high volumes of goods via intermodal freight can be tricky and scary. What if the merchandise is damaged during transport? What if it’s stolen? What if it never arrives at its destination?

These are typical concerns that business owners have when shipping their goods. But intermodal freight transportation can help ease those worries.

Today, in our blog post, we’ll explain how intermodal freight transportation is handled and explain why and how it’s a safe way to ship this cargo. Maybe even the safest?

Getting to Know Intermodal Freight Shipping

Intermodal freight transportation has been the industry standard for shipping large quantities of goods internationally, domestically, and within regions.

But what does intermodal mean?

Intermodal freight transportation is a shipping process that combines two or more modes of transport to ship goods across long distances. This could include ground, water, and rail transportation, for instance.

By using intermodal freight shipping, cargo owners can enjoy the benefits of using different modes of transport depending on the situation and the goods that need to be transported.

This flexibility is one of the main reasons intermodal shipping is so popular.

Why is it called intermodal?

Intermodal comes from the Latin words “inter” (between) and “modal” (modes), referring then to shipping goods by splitting transportation between different methods.

What are the types of intermodal transportation?

Contrary to the full truckload shipment, intermodal transportation use several transportation modes to move cargo between points in the supply chain, including:

  • Ground transportation with intermodal trucks,
  • Freight rail service with trains,
  • Water with container ships,
  • And air service with planes.

The Common Intermodal Shipping Process

1. Get in touch with intermodal providers

The shipper will want to contact a freight forwarder or an intermodal shipping services provider to understand what is being shipped, the size and weight, and where it needs to go.

2. Defining the optimal route for your intermodal shipments

Once you find the perfect partner and sign an intermodal contract for your intermodal shipping needs, they’ll help you determine the multiple modes of transportation required to complete the shipment.

They will mainly consider factors such as cost, time, type of cargo, and the goods’ final destination.

3. The common intermodal transport operations

Once the intermodal shipping process is initiated, it’s important to keep in mind that there are several handoffs along the way, but everything is happening in a seamless manner.

That’s the beauty of intermodal transportation!

This means that your cargo will be loaded onto a one and only intermodal container, which will then be transferred from truck to train, vessel or plane.

Indeed, every time a carrier gets to an intermodal ramp to make a switch to the next transportation mode of the intermodal journey, the container will be lifted off of the train, truck, or else and then be moved directly onto another intermodal transportation mode without the need to unload the cargo.

This operation can repeat as many times as necessary until it reaches the final destination.

Note: Because the intermodal transportation network uses intermodal containers to move products, it has also been dubbed containerized shipping.

The Main Intermodal Freight Advantages That You Should Know

Intermodal cuts down on wasted space at ports and terminals and reduces highway congestion.

Using the railway system for a good part of intermodal freight transport also helps reduce transportation costs for the shipper. The workforce that needs to intervene is limited; the quantity shipped can be higher, allowing shipment economy of scale.

Overall, rail intermodal traffic is usually a cheaper method to transport goods.

According to the Association of American Railroads, freight railroads would also be four times more fuel-efficient than truck-only shipments, thus inducing a lower carbon footprint.

But fuel efficiency, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly are not the only advantages of intermodal freight shipping.

Safety is another highlight of the intermodal shipping business. Let us tell you why.

Is Intermodal Transportation the Safest Way to Ship Your Cargo?

Intermodal shipping also allows your cargo to be shipped in the same container via the most direct route, which reduces the chance of delays and increases security. This is due to a variety of reasons.

Safe intermodal vehicles

For starters, intermodal transportation uses trucks designed for long-distance hauls. This means they have more safety features than regular semis, like reinforced frames and stronger suspensions.

They also have more modern braking systems, allowing the driver to stop the vehicle quickly if needed.

Slight handling of the merchandise

Intermodal shipments use containers that can be easily transferred from one mode of transport to another – by truck, train, barge, or even aircraft – without unloading their contents.

For the intermodal shippers, this represents a more secure method of transporting goods since it minimizes the amount of handling they receive and, potentially, limits the damages and breakage of the merchandise.

Fewer accidents on the roads

Intermodal freight transportation allows the shipment of products over long distances, usually employing railroads to cover the land-based segments.

And in case of environmental hazards, snow, heavy rain, or others, trains are usually more resilient than road transport.

Fewer losses of goods

Since this transportation involves using an intermodal container with locked doors, the chance of your goods being lost or stolen is significantly lower than the merchandise being transported on the highway.

An improved shipment tracking

Whereas following the route of your intermodal freight shipment was difficult in the past, these times are over.

Most of the intermodal containers are now equipped with a GPS tracking system (satellite or cellular), so you can easily monitor their location and movements at all times, making them more secure for both the logistics companies and consignees.


As you can see, other than its eco-shipping and reduced cost service, intermodal freight shipping is then also a very safe way to ship your goods.

Not only does intermodal transportation use vehicles that are designed for long-haul distances, but they also use containers that can be easily transferred from one mode of transport to another without unloading their contents, limiting loss, damages, and breakage of the goods.

Accidents due to harsh weather conditions can also be limited, thanks to trains on risky segments. Finally, the tracking of intermodal containers has improved in the past years.

Those elements make intermodal freight a reliable, safe, and cost-effective way to transport your cargo.

Are you not convinced yet? Contact us today for more information!

Meet the Intermodal Carriers: Understanding Who They Are and How to Work With Them

This post was last updated on March 31st, 2022

LIntermodal carriers are an important part of the transportation industry. They’re a vital service and organizations looking for efficient freight transportation across North America should not overlook the intermodal shipping industry.

It’s not about picking a single mode of transportation or expediting the delivery of your items. It’s about choosing the best of each transportation mode and determining an efficient and secure way to transport your products across the country.

And, for your business to flourish, you must pick a suitable intermodal carrier that can assist you properly.

This post aims to help you understand what an intermodal carrier is, who they serve, and how they function. We’ll also go through how you can collaborate with them to handle intermodal shipments across Canada and North America efficiently.

Understanding the Intermodal Transportation Service

What is intermodal shipping?

Intermodal transportation involves the transfer of your cargo from Point A to Point B, using two or more modes of transportation, such as truck and rail.

What is meant by an intermodal shipment?

An intermodal shipment is cargo movement by several transportation modes via intermodal containers.

Intermodal shipments tend to travel over long distances as they typically move between regions or countries, so shippers need to pick an intermodal carrier that best suits their needs.

Who are the main actors of intermodal shipping?

First, you have the shipper or client looking for a cost-effective and efficient way to move their freight.

Then, you have the intermodal service provider, transporter, or carrier. This company provides the transportation mode between two points, trucking, railcar loading, or container shipping.

And finally, you have the freight forwarder. This company is an intermodal carrier’s partner, and they handle the waybill, booking, and all other intermodal paperwork. These intermodal service providers help link all of the carriers involved in the intermodal shipping of the merchandise.

What is the usual intermodal transportation process?

The intermodal transportation process usually starts with the shipper, who has a product they need to get from one destination (wholesaler or distribution centre) to another destination, typically the end consumer. Depending on budget and needs, the shipper will work with a freight forwarder to choose the best mode of transport.

Once the goods are picked up, a drayage service will take the intermodal container(s) to a terminal, where they will be transferred onto another mode of transportation, typically rail.

The intermodal carrier will then deliver the cargo to its final destination, where the containers are again transferred onto another transport mode or taken directly to the final consignee.

Working with an intermodal carrier is not as difficult as it may seem.

The key is to find a reliable intermodal freight forwarder with competitive rail prices that can act as a single point of contact to help you with your logistical supply chain. 

two grey CN rail shipping containers

Intermodal freight transportation in Canada

If you’re shipping across Canada, you might want to have a look at our full load rail service company, using the CP and CN railway system as a low carbon footprint and cost-effective solution to deliver your goods easily. 

From Montreal to Edmonton, Toronto to Vancouver, and everything else in between the east coast to the west, we, at RailGateway, can get your goods where they need to go and at the best rates possible.

We’re Canada’s number one choice for full load intermodal rail transport shipping, and we’re here to help make the process as easy as possible.

Get a free intermodal quote for our services, and we’ll let you know if we’re a good fit for you.

What is an intermodal carrier?

What is a “carrier”?

A carrier is a business that transports passengers and cargo by land, air, or sea.

As the name suggests, Intermodal freight carriers facilitate things further by moving goods through intermodal containers, from one particular place to another, via several transportation modes.

This means they are experts at getting cargo from a ship onto a truck, then onto a railcar, and vice versa. But that’s not all! They can also collect your goods from an air cargo terminal if you need any last-minute intermodal shipment.

What are the responsibilities and services of an intermodal carrier?

Aside from transporting, intermodal carriers can also provide various services, including storage and transfers across modes of transportation to complete their mission.

At intermodal yards and other facilities, a carrier can arrange the use of cranes for stacking containers or the use of forklifts to move them around.

Finally, they may have warehouses strategically positioned near ocean ports, Canadian and American railroads, ensuring that whatever you need will be close by.

The best part about intermodal carriers?

They’re experts at optimizing routes for cost savings and efficiency, meaning they’ll always find the cheapest way to get your shipment where it needs to go.

Intermodal operators can often offer more flexible and environmentally friendly solutions than transporting your goods by truck alone.

How do they work with shippers and other intermodal providers?

An intermodal carrier may not work directly with the shipper in some cases. But are usually in direct contact with freight forwarders to find the best intermodal transportation solution for their customers.

These individuals will collaborate with them to book their services and manage and oversee the whole shipment process.

This way, shippers can focus on their business while freight forwarders take care of all the logistics.

Sounds great so far? So how do you get started?

Should you work with intermodal shipping carriers?

Who uses intermodal transportation providers?

Many businesses do!

From manufacturing firms to construction companies to e-commerce and retail businesses, if you’re looking for an efficient way to ship your products, then you should consider intermodal transportation.

How to work with intermodal carriers?

The best way to find an intermodal carrier is to reach out to a freight forwarder that can work with intermodal providers and railway operators on your behalf.

This way, you’ll get the help you need from experts who know how intermodal transportation works! Also, you might benefit from pooled volume discounts so that your shipment can be cheaper.

How can you benefit from working with intermodal carriers?

Working with intermodal carriers avoids high transit times, high transportation costs, wrong coordination, and other common problems when shipping through a single transportation mode.

Your intermodal carriers may help you save money by streamlining the transportation of your goods.

Other advantages to working with logistics companies for intermodal transport?

Sure!

Intermodal services are also a sustainable choice for businesses as you will be able to pick the most adapted transportation mode depending on your route.

For instance, you can reduce carbon emissions and congestion on the roads by choosing rail for the long haul rather than intermodal trucking services.

Rail service is also more secure and safer in extreme weather, transporting environmental hazards, and time-efficient when compared to shipping goods by truck.

However, intermodal trucking companies offer more flexibility to get your shipment to a specific area or directly to your warehouse. Trucks are then also necessary for the last mile delivery.

You would understand, moving freight by taking advantage of the best of each part of the transportation industry is the way to go!


Working with an intermodal carrier is a win-win situation. And that’s why we’re here to help with your intermodal rail shipping needs.

Daily, we work with medium to large-sized shippers and high-volume shippers to help them save time, money, and headaches on every step of their supply chain.

So, don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or want to know more about intermodal carriers and the services we offer. Our experts would be happy to answer you!

10 Types of Intermodal Cargo You Can Ship in Containers

This post was last updated on March 31st, 2022

Have you ever wondered what type of intermodal cargo you can ship? Have you ever thought about shipping your products through Intermodal shipping?

It’s a fantastic method of transporting goods from one place to another. And combining the advantages of each mode, truck, rail, or ship, can help you save money on transportation.

The most common way to ship merchandise is by using intermodal containers. They’re used to ship fresh produce, common goods, and other materials, transport cars overseas, or even import clothes.

If you’re uncertain, keep reading as we’ll go through ten different types of intermodal freight that you can ship in intermodal containers.

Types of Intermodal Cargo

Consumer goods

This is one of the most common types of cargo that can be shipped in an intermodal container.

This is because it does not have any special requirements, possibly long expiration dates, come in large quantities, and can be carried by land, sea, or rail, depending on your company’s origin.

Rail intermodal shipping is a popular way to transport consumer goods straight to the retailers’ shelves.

Fresh produce intermodal shipping

Fresh products are also a type of cargo that can be shipped through an intermodal service.

Potatoes, onions, lettuce, it’s possible to use an intermodal freight shipping model for delivering fresh produce. However, some companies might have to use refrigerated or temperature-controlled containers for some types of consumables.

Frozen products

Thanks to refrigerated intermodal containers, frozen products can also be shipped via rail service.

So, if you are looking to transport frozen products through intermodal shipping, make sure the container is specifically designed for that type of cargo.

If not, your goods might be susceptible to heat damage, impacting their quality and representing a considerable loss.

Shipping vehicles via intermodal freight

Another type of cargo that can be shipped in intermodal containers concerns vehicles.

It is possible to use the railroads for shipping cars, scooters, and more from one place to another.

Therefore, international shipping of cars from overseas to the United States or Canada is a popular way for importers to bring their vehicles into North America while minimizing transportation costs for large amounts.

Liquids freight

You probably guessed that liquids freight is also a type of cargo that can be shipped thanks to intermodal transportation.

Intermodal rail shipping is used for this kind of cargo because tank containers are designed to carry liquid bulk from petrochemicals to corn syrup!

Large items and heavy machinery shipping

Another intermodal freight that can fit this type of shipment is the category of large items and heavy machinery.

This can include construction or agricultural machinery, specific vehicles, wind turbine blades, and so on.

These machines are usually large and heavy, making it quite challenging to find a way to transport them by land or air.

However, the containers are usually large enough for many of these items, explaining why intermodal freight transportation is a more fitted and safer solution.

Dry bulk cargo shipment

Dry bulk cargo represents unpackaged raw materials such as wood logs, sand, gravel, or iron ore that can be sent through intermodal transportation.

This is a great and cost-effective solution for freight shippers that need to send high quantity of these types of goods across countries!

Common goods intermodal transportation

As the name suggests, these products do not have special requirements for transportation and can fit into ordinary freight containers while still meeting their weight or size limits.

We are talking about home appliances, clothes, toys, and more, sent in large quantities.

Industrial and construction materials

If you are a distributor of industrial and construction materials, intermodal transportation can be an excellent shipping strategy for your supply chain.

Pipes, metals, paper, bricks, but also large metal coils that usually need to stay in their original size while being transported across countries would not always fit into standard containers or small trucks.

It is also a risky shipment to manipulate during the load and unload process. Intermodal transportation allows teams to move goods effectively and safely with minimal handling.

To ease business logistics, railroads can then be an exciting alternative.

Hazardous materials intermodal shipments

Dangerous goods are a type of cargo that can be transported via intermodal rail routes in specialized containers and requires the assistance of trained personnel to handle them during transportation, loading, or unloading.

This kind of load also needs special permits from government agencies such as the Department of Transportation (DOT) or The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB).

Be aware that you’ll have to pay an extra intermodal accessorial charge to cover the risks of the shipper and the paperwork required.

Fast-FAQ on Intermodal freight transportation

If you are unfamiliar with intermodal transportation, here are a few elements to understand about this freight shipping option.

What is intermodal freight shipping?

It’s a transportation model that allows shipping a large number of goods with two or more modes of transportation, including trains, trucks, or ships.

What is the intermodal shipping process?

The intermodal process begins with the cargo being loaded in an intermodal container, which is then moved through different modes of transportation from the pickup point to the final delivery.

Usually, the intermodal container is loaded on a truck and brought to an intermodal ramp, where it will be transferred onto a flat car or well car and then shipped by train for the long haul until the final destination. It might also be carried to other intermodal ramps if the container must be transferred to another type of intermodal carrier for the next stages of its journey.

The carrier uses specific containers designed to transport goods on the railway system, ships, or trucks. The cargo will stay in the same container all the way and won’t be unloaded/reloaded until the container arrives at its destination.

Why use intermodal freight transportation?

The main advantage of intermodal shipping is that it is a great, cost-effective way to ship a high quantity of consumer goods long-distance at a reduced cost.

Indeed, intermodal providers offer very competitive rates compared to aerial transportation or a 100% truck transit.

Intermodal freight transportation can also be more environmentally friendly and help your business lower its carbon footprint. Indeed shipping containers through rail transportation shows better fuel efficiency and reduces the number of CO2 emissions.

It also offers a more secure way to transport your goods. The merchandise will be less exposed to theft or damage as the containers remain closed.

How is the rail intermodal traffic nowadays?

Due to its numerous advantages, intermodal shipping has become a significant part of the transportation landscape in North America.

In the United States, according to the Association of American Railroads, rail traffic has been growing since 1997. It even broke a record in October 2020, during a global pandemic.

What cargo can’t you ship?

We’ve some common types of cargo you can ship, but what can’t you?

Personal belongings, shipments for household goods, or private vehicles are services unavailable with RailGateway.

This service is also unavailable for transporting human beings or pets.

As you can see, most cargo can be shipped through freight railroads, except for a few items or situations.

Whether you want to ship raw materials, common, frozen, and fresh goods, construction products, or even hazardous materials – there’s a container for it. Are you interested in making the switch over to intermodal? Don’t hesitate to contact us!

16 Common Intermodal Accessorial Charges All Shippers Should Be Aware Of

This post was last updated on April 16th, 2022

Every month, we ship thousands of shipments with our rail partners across Canada with all types of goods – from food to clothing, electronics, and machinery.

That means we know the details of intermodal rail transportation and how important it is for you to understand Intermodal Accessorial Charges before booking your shipment!

Now, if you haven’t heard of them before, we advise you to keep reading this post to fully be aware of what they are, what their role is in the intermodal transportation industry, and how it affects you as a business.

late truck pick ups at intermodal accessorial charges include late pick at intermodal ramps incur Intermodal Accessorial Charges

The Basics of Intermodal Accessorial Charges

What are accessorial charges?

Intermodal Accessorial Charges are an additional fee that intermodal carriers charge for each extra service they provide beyond pick up, transport, and delivery. They are also known as intermodal surcharges. 

How do intermodal accessorial fees work?

Fees can vary depending on the type of transportation involved, equipment and services required, the workforce needed, or even external events affecting the shipment at any step of the supply chain and logistic process.

Accessorial charges can, for instance, include demurrage, scale service, inside delivery, fuel surcharges, and more.

Why do carriers apply additional fees?

Additional fees are common in the intermodal carrier industry. There are various reasons why carriers may choose to apply additional fees, such as to offset the cost of fuel or to account for updated regulations.

In some cases, carriers may also apply additional operational efficiencies charges, drayage carriers fees, and fuel surcharges to account for higher traffic levels on certain routes.

Ultimately, each carrier is different, and it’s important to research each carrier’s policies before shipping intermodally. You can ensure that you are aware of any additional fees that may apply to your shipment.

What Are the Accessorial Charges Specific to Intermodal Transportation?

There are many different accessorial fees, and each case is specific. We have listed for you the most common ones for intermodal transportation:

Demurrage charges

Demurrage fees are charges you pay for not picking up your merchandise from a shipping company’s intermodal terminal warehouse within the allocated time.

It covers the fact that the rail terminal has to deal with occupied storage in their warehouse while this should be open for the next clients and the risk of reaching their storage capacity.

Per diem charges

This is the first type of detention charge. This accessorial charge is billed to cover the daily cost of using equipment, containers, chassis, or trailers from another carrier longer than the free time allowed.

This fee keeps growing until the equipment goes back to the original carrier owner. It allows them to cover the unexpected cost of having their equipment on the road one or several days extra, whereas they could be rented to another client.

Driver detention charges

The second type of detention charge corresponds to the driver detention time fee.

This fee is when intermodal carriers must pay an extra hourly charge for the driver when they need to wait for more than the free time planned for loading or unloading the cargo.

Scale fees

This extra fee is an additional you can ask for when booking your intermodal shipments. This service allows you to have your freight scaled on each operator’s load.

It is quite simple, but it can help you avoid future incorrect weight issues and surcharges.

Other Types of Accessorial Charges

Below you will find common charges you might have to pay or be billed. This list is not exhaustive, so if you have any doubts or specific requests, don’t hesitate to contact us!

Entrance fees or inside delivery

Fees are charged by the carrier when merchandise is picked up or delivered to a customer’s location.

This could mean the driver has to enter a building and use some special handling such as a pallet jack to either load or unload the shipment.

Limited access pickup

This additional charge is for entering into a facility that requires special shipment requirements or extra effort because of inspection of the merchandise or security reasons.

Any trucking company usually applies the limited access pickup or delivery fee when delivering to specific destinations such as military bases, schools, or even diplomatic buildings.

Lumper service (load-unload)

Similar to the driver-assist, the lumper service is charged if the carrier needs to add labor costs to the final bill to hire an extra workforce to handle the loading or unloading of the shipment between different modes of transportation or at the loading dock.

Fuel surcharge

This accessorial charge is an extra fee that Carriers typically list to cover increased fuel costs. As the price of fuel can evolve quickly, partner carriers prefer keeping it safe in case of a high rise.

Driver clean fee

Carriers are allowed to apply an extra charge if it is required for the driver to clean his truck before transporting the merchandise.

Driver-assist fee

The driver doesn’t always intervene in the loading process. But when this additional fee is billed, this means the carrier requires the driver to load or unload part of the truck’s cargo at a dock for some extra handling.

Liftgate surcharge

If the consignee location is not equipped with loading docks, the Intermodal carrier can provide the liftgate service to assist you in loading or unloading with liftgate equipment.

This consists in moving your cargo up and down thanks to a hydraulic platform at the back of a particular truck.

It is important to note that not all trucks come with a lift gate, and it is not the shipper’s responsibility to check the delivery destination and add this service. Talk to your intermodal carrier in advance if you consider needing this service.

Hazardous materials

The additional fee that shipping companies apply to transport hazardous materials is due to the added risks they represent for the workforce.

It also covers all the needed paperwork and time the carrier’s team spent to declare this specific shipment to the Department of Transportation.

Redelivery extra charge

This charge is applied when the intermodal carrier has to return back and re-deliver your cargo another day.

Reasons can be diverse: because of a customer’s request, because no one is available to receive the shipment, because there isn’t the necessary equipment on-site to load/unload the goods, etc.

This comes as a pricy expense as, basically, it involves the carrier redoing the whole job.

Advance notification surchage

Extra fee that is based upon the consignee requirements to make the driver send an advance notice to the receiver before its arrival to announce the delivery of the shipment.

Storage charges

This fee is billed if the carrier has to store the merchandise of the customer in its own facilities for whatever reason.

Equipment order not used fee

This fee covers the return of the rail-owned equipment after the carrier is advised that the load has been canceled or is not ready with too little or no notice or when the truck driver is unable to operate.

The Cost of Intermodal Accessorials on Your Business

How much more will you be charged on your freight bill for those fees?

Really, every case is different.

Considering the right additional services for your shipping plan might be a complex thing to do by yourself. If you get mistaken, it can consequently affect the carrier’s rates and your shipping budget.

We know it can be tricky, but we are here to help you with the process.

First of all, we recommend you get an initial quote on our website. Following this, you’ll be in touch with our trained rail shipping experts.

They will be able to help you define the flat fee as well as the correct additional solutions you will need depending on your cargo and shipment specificities, as well as help you reduce accessorial charges.

Be aware of the unexpected accessorial fees

Some accessorial fees, such as demurrage or per diems, are unexpected and triggered by external or unplanned situations.

Yet, they are legitimate, affecting all parts of the supply chain and shipping process.

Unfortunately, you sometimes cannot plan for those additional costs, so they might have to be added to the freight bill during or after shipping depending on the event.

How to reduce intermodal accessorial charges?

If you can give us more details on your cargo and its specifications, we’ll be able to estimate all the potential accessorial charges that might come up.

This way, we can help you identify how these extra costs could be reduced or even eliminated. We always do our best and work hand to hand with our customers.

However, a few things that can help reduce these additional charges are:

  • Understanding the shipper and consignee requirements
  • Correct weight and size of the containers
  • Making sure you know the carrier rules, tariffs, and rates
  • Choosing the proper vehicles and routes
  • Having set up the sufficient teams or equipment to allow a fast and efficient delivery
  • Plan the delivery ahead of time

As you can see, intermodal accessorial charges are pretty specific, costly, and can add up quite quickly.

It’s then very important to understand their impact on the overall shipment cost and require the correct services for your intermodal transport shipment.

We hope you enjoyed this blog post. If you need any further assistance or advice to correctly plan your Intermodal shipping strategy, do not hesitate to get a quote or contact us directly! We’ll be happy to help!

Container Bites: Interesting Intermodal Container Stats and Tid Bits

This post was last updated on March, 7th 2022

We’ve all seen intermodal containers on the back of trucks, trains, and ships. But do you know how intermodal containers work? How long have they been in use? What is their impact on society?

The intermodal container is one of the most important inventions that has revolutionized global trade. It’s an all-purpose tool for shipping goods across oceans, seas, states and provinces, and worldwide.

And today, we want to give you some interesting intermodal container stats that you would not believe!

Table of contents

  1. A Quick History of the Shipping Container
  2. 24 Intermodal Container Shipping Facts & Statistics That May Interest You
  3. The future of the shipping container and transporting cargo
multi coloured intermodal shipping containers

A Quick History of the Shipping Container

Malcom McLean, inventor of the intermodal container

The intermodal container, created in 1956 by Malcom McLean, revolutionized the shipping industry.

It eliminated the need for goods to be loaded and unloaded – a time-consuming and costly process and has become the standard of a container moving from one intermodal transport to another.

The beauty of intermodal shipping containers

Whether a container is transported from a truck to a rail car or from a cargo port to a warehouse, the intermodal container comes in various sizes with standardized dimensions, allowing the different modes of transportation to carry it without any modifications.

That said, twenty foot equivalent units are the most common size and can hold between 9 to 11 pallets.

The intermodal container has genuinely been a global game-changer, as it has greatly facilitated international trade and intermodal freight transport.

24 Intermodal Container Shipping Facts & Statistics That May Interest You

Intermodal shipping container facts worth knowing

Today’s intermodal containers are made of high-strength steel with locking devices that make it possible to stack two or more units on top of each other and fasten them together securely.

The standard twenty foot equivalent unit container’s nickname is TEU. You could say, “This container equals one TEU,” to explain that the container in question is a 20-foot long ISO container.

The largest size of intermodal containers is a 53-foot container, considered as High Cube, and has around 60% more storage total capacity versus a classic 40-foot-long container.

Intermodal transport volume stats

Approximately 90% of the world’s goods are transported by sea.

– At any one time, there are approximately 20 million shipping containers adrift at sea.

– The amount of goods carried by containers has risen from 102 million metric tons in 1980 to about 1.83 billion metric tons in 2017.

– It is estimated that approximately 600 million shipping containers are in use today.

– Maritime transport (also known as Ocean shipping or seaborne trade) more than doubled between 1990 and 2020 from four billion tons to 11 billion tons – source Statista.com

World shipping industry facts and stats

– The first container ship, dubbed the Autocarrier, was launched by the Southern Railway of the United Kingdom in 1931.

– China is the world’s top container producer, building nearly 97 percent of all shipping containers.

– According to the World Shipping Council, in 2018, the busiest container port in the world was the port of Shanghai in China, with about 42 million containers that moved through it.

– In 2019, the annual world shipping trade was valued at 13 trillion USD.

– In October 2021, the spot freight route charges from Shanghai to Rotterdam reached 14.605 USD (a 565 percent increase over the previous year)

Interesting facts about intermodal container transport

– In March 2021, a 1,300-foot-long vessel carrying containers (18,300 to be exact) got stuck in the Suez Canal, and it cost the world’s economy 400 million dollars per hour for almost a week.

– In 2021, the average time it took to unload a container in Asia was 27 seconds, in Northern Europe 46 seconds, and in North America, 76 seconds.

– According to the Intermodal Association of North America, 95% of all manufactured goods spend part of their journey in an intermodal container.

– When appropriately handled, intermodal transportation over an “east coast to west coast” shipment situation, or vice versa, can be between 15% to 20% cheaper than a single trucking service.

The capacity of the different modes of transportation

– A container ship can carry up to 11,000 containers. That means lining up; the vessel is transporting about 70 km or 44 miles of shipping containers.

– An intermodal freight train is up to two times more fuel-efficient than a transportation truck.

– The maximum capacity of a vessel with the name “Globe,” which can carry 19,100 20-foot containers, has a capacity of 300 million tablets or 156 million pairs of shoes.

Statistics on the different types of shipping container

– Dry freight or general-purpose containers used to transport non-perishable goods make up 90% of all intermodal containers.

– Refrigerated containers, designed to transport perishable goods under cold temperatures, make up only 6% of the world’s containers.

Intermodal transport and Sustainability

– According to Saxon, inefficient container supply chains account for around 20 billion USD of industrial waste each year, the result of a lack of data sharing. 

– Using rail transport as part of the intermodal supply chain positively impacts the environment as when over 100 ton-miles, trucks produce 19.8 pounds of carbon dioxide, trains produce around 5.4 pounds only.

– For long distances container shipping (over 1,000 miles), it is estimated that integrating intermodal rail service rather than trucking alone would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65%.

The future of the shipping container and transporting cargo

Shipping containers have a bright future in intermodal transportation.

With incidents like the Ever Given in the Suez canal and the COVID-19 pandemic, the shipping industry is expected to surge.

Transporting goods has never been more challenging. Many companies are recovering financially due to the collapse in oil prices, and price wars ignite as shipping rates go through the roof.

Industry leaders in maritime container shipping like Maersk and Ever Given report record revenues and forecasts well into the near future. With port bottlenecks and congestion concerns worsening, business and consumer demand are not going anywhere soon.

Read our post about everything you want and need to know about containerization for a more in-depth look at intermodal containers.

Looking for an intermodal transportation quote? Contact one of our rail experts today to learn more about how we can help you save on your next shipment.

The Intermodal Container: Everything You Need to Know About Containerisation!

This post was last updated on March 6th, 2022

The intermodal container has been a fixture in the shipping industry for decades. Being one of the pillars of the success of intermodal shipping seen as the best way to transport goods over long distances, intermodal cargo containers are now being used more than ever!

Even though there are many different types of intermodal containers, they all serve one purpose: to make transporting goods easier and more cost-effective.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss what an intermodal container is, how it works, its average life span, the different types of intermodal containers, and much more!

The Container Industry

The industry has been rapidly expanding over the past few years.

What was once a laborious and slow shipping process, intermodal transport is now streamlined and efficient, spreading across industries including automotive, food and beverage, retail goods, manufacturers, and much more.

The invention of the intermodal cargo container

The first successful intermodal shipping container is said to have been designed in 1956 by an American trucking entrepreneur named Malcom McLean.

One morning in the late 1930s, after driving his truck from Fayetteville, North Carolina, to Hoboken, New Jersey, McLean was informed that he would have to wait until the terminal crew would unstack the pallets from his truck.

Why? Because they first had to unload all of the trucks that arrived before him.

Malcom soon recognized that he was watching both time and money wasting away, and the idea of containerization was born. But, it would still take McLean nearly 20 years to start seeing the first intermodal containers in action.

The evolution of containerization

Since its modernization, intermodal transport has been a leading industry in the country and across borders.

The use of intermodal containers has revolutionized global trade and transportation by allowing cargo to be transferred seamlessly between different modes of transportation, such as trucks, trains, and ships, without repackaging the goods.

In 2012, 20.5 million intermodal containers were in existence. Today, there are said to be 600 million shipping containers in use at any given time.

So, what is an Intermodal Container?

The container (or cargo container) is an intermodal freight transport system used primarily in international trade.

They can come in different shapes and sizes and are often outfitted with refrigerated units, heating, and ventilation.

So what is an intermodal cargo container? And what good are they to you? These are two questions that might be on your mind.

Intermodal containers, or shipping containers, are used in many ways and can hold anything from goods to liquids to heavy machinery. They can move around the world quickly and, in general, with ease. 

What is intermodal containerization?

Containerization, in short, is the process of transporting goods in ISO standard containers.

The rise of International shipping containers with the ISO standardization

The ISO standardization for intermodal cargo containers considerably improved the importation and exportation process through seamless international shipping of goods.

Indeed, intermodal ISO containers respect specific international standardized sizes fixed by the International Organization for Standardization. This system helped the carriers optimize their fleets and transport containers for several logistics industry sectors.

Container characteristics and regulations

The most common type, dry freight containers, is commonly referred to as intermodal or shipping containers. They are usually 8 feet wide by 8.6 feet in height.

However, in recent years, high cube containers measuring 9.6 feet high have become more popular.

Containers come with a door at either end to be quickly loaded and offer weather protection and security against theft.

The average life span of an intermodal container is 25 years.

8 Different Types of Intermodal Containers

Dry freight container

At 90%, dry freight or general-purpose intermodal containers are the most common type in modern-day intermodal shipping.

Refrigerated containers

Intermodal cargo containers with refrigeration systems make up 6% of the world’s cargo shipments.

Open-top container

Compared to a solid roof, open-top containers have an open-top covered by a tarpaulin. This allows big and bulky items to be shipped and loaded from the top by a crane.

Flat rack container

A flat rack container is used to transport or store goods that have a specific size. The container, as the name implies, is flat, and cargo is loaded from the top or side.

Tank container

Intermodal tank containers are used to safely store and transport liquids and gases, including corrosive or flammable liquids, such as acids and gasoline.

Heated Intermodal Shipping Container

Heated containers are temperature-controlled intermodal containers designed to carry temperature-sensitive goods, offering better protection in severe weather/climates situations.

Insulated containers

Intermodal containers are insulated to protect the cargo from external elements and maintain the initial temperature.

Ventilated Containers

Ventilated intermodal containers are designed with a special ventilation system that prevents the buildup of condensation/moisture inside.

Shipping Container Specifications

What is the standard size of a shipping container?

The standard intermodal container is a 20-foot long shipping container

Note that a standardized unit was born out of that standard: The Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit or TEU. It’s used as an inexact size reference for any container ship or intermodal container. One could say, “It is a 1 TEU or a 2 TEU”.

The twenty-foot containers have an internal floor area of 146 sq. ft. and 1,172 cubic ft. of volume and are either 8.6 feet to 9.6 in height.

The weight capacity for this size of intermodal container is approximately 55,126.9 lbs or 25,000 kg.

What is the biggest shipping container size?

The largest container you can find on the market is the 53-foot High Cube Container.

Those fifty-three-foot containers are made for general purposes and specifically for international trade.

Indeed, these larger-sized shipping containers have 60% more capacity than standard 40-foot containers. Especially among rail and intermodal marine container transportation, this gain represents a significant advantage when shipping merchandise abroad.

The pallet wide containers’ sizing

You might have also heard of “pallet-wide” containers.

These are primarily European freight containers that are slightly wider than the ISO containers, built for optimal use of the internal capacity.

Indeed, the standard size of Euro-pallets is different from the ones in North America. Depending on the dimensions of the container (20-foot, 40-foot, or 45-foot), these might carry up to 7 extra Euro-pallets, representing a significant benefit for the haulers.

RailGateway’s own intermodal containers’ specifications

At RailGateway, we specialize in 53′ and 40′ high cube dry van containers with maximum weight loads of up to 59,000 lbs.

For more details, visit our container details & specifications page.

3 Types of Cargo Shipped in Intermodal Containers

Intermodal shipping containers transport a variety of cargo, including those main ones:

1. Consumer goods

Intermodal containerization is an excellent solution for companies looking to consolidate their inventory and ship it overseas or across the country quickly and easily.

2. Heavy machinery

Intermodal shipping containers are a safe and effective way to transport construction equipment, helping companies save money in the process.

3. Dry bulk cargo

Intermodal containerization is one of the safest, most cost-effective ways for dry bulk shippers to move their products around. This includes materials such as ore, coal, grain, etc.

Do you want to know what other types of cargo a container shipping enterprise could transport? Have a look at our dedicated blog post!

The basics of intermodal transportation pricing

The price of intermodal transport is generally characterized by the linehaul charges and fuel costs. Intermodal carriers determine pricing by breaking them down into these two main components.

Fuel Surcharge – This is the cost of fuel incorporated into intermodal transportation pricing and is subject to change due to fluctuations in oil prices.

Drayage – This is the cost of moving intermodal containers from short distances and includes accessorial services and costs such as receiving, unloading, loading, and other transport terminal charges.

How do I manage intermodal container costs and shipping?

Intermodal transportation rates are generally negotiated on a per-move/ per project, on the spot or one-off, or pre-determined contracted rates. Contact us for more information about intermodal pricing or to get a quote.

If you’re looking to transport goods more efficiently and cost-effectively, intermodal shipping containers are a great solution.

These large-scale steel freight containers offer businesses the opportunity to consolidate their inventory and ship it overseas or across the country quickly and easily. They also provide protection for heavy machinery items such as construction equipment that would be difficult to move by other means of transportation.

For dry bulk shippers who need an efficient way to transport materials like sugar, grain, coal, etc., intermodal containers are one of the safest, most affordable ways available today.


Contact us to help manage intermodal costs with pricing negotiation strategies tailored specifically for your business needs.

We’ll work closely with you every step of the way, and our team will be more than happy to create a great intermodal shipping plan that drives sales by considering your needs!

Intermodal: The Reliable Shipping Method for Canadian Businesses

This post was last updated on April 16th, 2022.

You’ve probably heard about intermodal shipping and how it’s predicted to become the world’s most popular mode of ground travel?

But why should you care? What does intermodal service offer that the trucking industry doesn’t? And is intermodal freight shipping right for your business? We’ll address these questions in this post, so keep on reading.

It’s time to go intermodal! No, this is not outdated. The intermodal industry is growing by leaps and bounds because more shippers are discovering the many benefits of this type of transportation. 

So why intermodal?

One of the reasons intermodal has become so popular with shippers is efficiency. Business shippers are not only looking for a more cost-effective way to transport their goods to help reduce costs.

They’re looking for reliability and consistency as well. And intermodal transport gives them just what they need: a way to ship heavier items over large distances without paying higher rates.

Let’s discover why businesses should consider making the switch to intermodal for their shipping needs, how to work with an intermodal broker, and how to prepare for success when shipping with rail and intermodal.

What Exactly is Intermodal Transportation?

It may seem like intermodal is just a fancy way of saying “shipping by train.”

But intermodal goes far beyond that because intermodal freight shipping uses two or more modes of transportation to ship goods efficiently and cost-effectively over long distances.

So what exactly does intermodal service offer?

It offers both domestic and international shipping and long-distance transport of goods without any handling of the cargo itself nor the cost or hassle associated with air.

Also known as “combined transport,” the intermodal service makes it possible to move freight safely and securely between provinces, states, and sometimes even countries by rail, ship, and trucks.

Celebrating 40+ years of intermodal rail shipping service

With RailGateway, you get peace of mind knowing we’ve got your intermodal transportation covered. You can trust us to keep you and your cargo moving coast-to-coast. Contact one of our rail experts today to learn more about how you can save with intermodal shipping.

What is Intermodal Transportation Used For?

With intermodal transportation, you can ship just about anything anywhere.

It’s great for large or bulky items that don’t fit into standard-sized containers and are too big to go by air freight.

Manufacturing, food service providers, and e-Commerce businesses are just a few industries that frequent intermodal transport users.

Read our post here for an in-depth look at when to use intermodal transportation and which industries benefit the most from it.

Also popular with businesses shipping oversized cargo is the ability to secure your shipment in transit using intermodal locks; this increases security while at sea and while intermodal trains are in transit.

As the name implies, intermodal transportation is used for transporting goods by rail and ship to move freight between provinces, states, or even countries.

The intermodal shipping process

Intermodal containers can be interchanged between different modes of transportation, which helps to keep costs low and allows businesses to get the benefits of multiple kinds of cargo shipping.

Containers can fit on both ships and trucks while also allowing for rail transport. This means that your freight will spend less time traveling and more time in transit, which leads to faster delivery, and increased capacity, at a reduced cost.

Intermodal containers can be loaded onto a ship or truck using an intermodal ramp (like the one pictured below).

The intermodal process is streamlined by intermodal ramps like this, making it easy for your freight to be loaded and unloaded quickly for intermodal shipping.

Intermodal containers are also a great alternative if your goods must be shipped on trucks or ships that will not accommodate bulky items like machinery, furniture, trailers, or other freight that is too large to fit into a traditional-sized cargo container.

An example of the intermodal logistics industry is combining the benefits offered by truck, rail, and ship freight services for long-haul shipments.

Trucking companies can use truck-only ferries, bridges, or tunnels for shipments between terminals. At the same time, ocean ports have dedicated drayage services – usually provided by exclusive firms with extensive experience in this area.

What would be a common intermodal service?

In a typical freight transportation scenario, a truck will bring an empty intermodal container to pick up the designated load.

The empty container will then be filled with goods and taken by truck to a rail yard station. When the container arrives there, it is then linked to a train and sent where it is needed. Freight railroads are commonly used for long-haul sections.

This yard station also serves as an embarkation point for loading cargo onto containers, which can then be used again after they’re empty – when combined with other loads in order of quantity consumed at this location (or anywhere else).

The freight is then offloaded from the train and delivered by truck to its final destination. That is what we call the final mile delivery.

Understanding Intermodal Freight Shipping

Intermodal transportation is an excellent alternative for businesses using traditional logistics companies for their supply chain needs.

With intermodal, you can save money on fuel costs and get goods to your customers quicker than ever before. If you’re looking to switch over from a more traditional form of freight shipping, intermodal is the perfect way to do it!

What is an intermodal company?

An intermodal company is a freight transportation provider that specializes in intermodal shipping.

They work with both businesses and rail service providers to help clients ship freight and raw materials by rail from cargo ships without handling the shipments themselves.

What is an intermodal vehicle?

An intermodal vehicle is a truck or train that carries shipping containers to different modes of transportation.

These vehicles are specially designed for intermodal transport and may include features like:

  • Multiple axles, which make them better able to handle the weight of the intermodal shipment in transit
  • Front or rear-mounted cranes that allow intermodal shipping containers to be lifted on and off the vehicle;
  • Multiple floors, allowing for double-stacked containers

Why hire an intermodal broker?

Working directly with a trusted intermodal broker allows you to get the most out of intermodal transport. The intermodal industry has grown because shippers are discovering how much time and money intermodal transportation can save while ensuring safe and secure shipment handling from door to destination.

By working with intermodal providers, you get peace of mind knowing that they will take care of your intermodal shipping process in all aspects.

Seamlessly ship your intermodal freight with RailGateway.ca

At RailGateway, we believe that intermodal freight shipping is the way of the future for economic growth.

That’s why we’re dedicated to helping Canadian businesses ship intermodally. And that starts with our low intermodal transportation costs and services. Request your FREE quote today.

Growth in Intermodal Shipping

The intermodal industry is growing, and it’s clear why. The benefits are undeniable for businesses looking to switch from traditional trucking options to rail transportation.

What You’ll Gain When Shipping with Intermodal Rail Transportation

  • Shorter transit times vs. trucking, which means faster delivery for your customers
  • Reduced carbon footprint and fuel efficiency
  • Improved safety records. Intermodal railroads are safer than other industries
  • The ability for your business to expand intermodally with a broker who can help you import and export goods

Get a more detailed overview of the benefits of switching to rail intermodal transport just here!

Intermodal Transportation: Is it Right for Me?

How do you know if intermodal transport is right for you? There are many questions to ask yourself about intermodal transportation like:

  1. What is my budget for intermodal shipping?
  2. How long do I want to be in transit?
  3. Do domestic borders allow intermodal transportation of goods from foreign countries and vice versa?

The more research your company does on the benefits of intermodal, the easier it will be to make that switch and save money in the process!

If You’re Thinking About Making The Switch

As with any significant switch, intermodal transportation isn’t something you should take lightly.

Many logistics are involved with switching to intermodal that will need to be addressed before making the jump and beginning your intermodal shipping process.

For a deep dive look into when and why to make the change to intermodal, check out our blog post “When to Use Intermodal Transportation and Why.”

The experts in rail shipping

And while intermodal offers many benefits over other shipment methods, you don’t want just any broker – you need a team of intermodal experts who understand the intricacies of intermodal transportation.

At RailGateway, we believe that moving freight should never be an obstacle to your business’s success. Let us take care of it for you with no hassles involved. Contact one of our intermodal freight experts today.

Preparing For Success

If you’re ready to start intermodal shipping, a few things are to consider.

Tips to get ready for intermodal freight shipping

You may soon be moving intermodal containers with rail or intercity trucks, so keep these tips in mind as you plan your move:

  • Get quotes from multiple intermodal transport companies and read their reviews online.
  • Make sure your business is adequately insured before starting the switch.
  • Use an intermodal broker who can help manage all aspects of your shipment, including customs documentation and compliance requirements. This will save time and money on both ends!
  • Consider the type of cargo or raw materials you plan to ship: Are they environmental hazards? Will you require specific licenses or additional insurance?

More ideas to get ready for your first rail shipments in Canada on the blog!

Mistakes to avoid when dealing with an Intermodal Service

Wasting time and money is the last thing you want to do when starting intermodal shipping, so be sure to avoid these mistakes:

  • Booking the wrong container type or size: Each container is different, whether we talk about capacity or type of cargo it can carry. Do not make the mistake of choosing the wrong one. Be sure to ask your intermodal carrier for their container details before you engage in anything!
  • Having the wrong rail intermodal labeling: Whether you are looking for domestic intermodal or international, you know how important tracking ensures your shipment is making progress and will arrive correctly at the final destination and on time.
  • Partner with non-reliable intermodal carriers or resources on site: At every step of the supply chain, it can matter to have the right people at the right place in order to avoid damage, thefts, and other mistakes.
  • Not having the right equipment.
  • Not being informed enough: Intermodal freight shipping is a complex process, and it’s important to be as knowledgeable as possible before starting. Do your research, find a reputable intermodal carrier, and ask lots of questions! Request your intermodal quote today from RailGateway.

Click here for more details on preparing for success with intermodal rail shipping.

Working with an Intermodal Provider 

Due diligence never hurt anyone. Don’t trust a company because they have a flashy website and claim to be intermodal experts.

Here are some things you should do when researching intermodal transport companies:

  • Check references, reviews, and licenses
  • Request proof of insurance or other certifications that they can handle your shipment(s)
  • Ask for an estimate or intermodal quote before they begin work on the move. How much time will this take? Will it require special equipment?
  • Can cargo be consolidated with another load if applicable? Is there any additional cost involved in doing so?

Check out our blog post, “Questions You Should Ask an Intermodal Shipping Provider,” for more qualifying questions before making your final decision.

Intermodal transport is going through an incredible transformation in the transportation sector, yet many enterprises are still uninformed about the benefits they might gain if they switch.

Indeed, at first intermodal freight shipping can old fashion. But with the help of a qualified intermodal carrier and some careful preparation, you can switch to intermodal transportation with ease and confidence.

Intermodal transportation can save your business time and money, but it’s essential to do your research first and avoid costly mistakes. At RailGateway, we’re here to help with all of your intermodal needs.

Get into intermodal today and start saving; now is the time to act! Contact us for more information on how you can get started today.