The Who, What, Why and How of Intermodal Shipping (Plus how it can save you money)

This post was last updated on March, 6th 2022

The intermodal shipping industry has changed a lot over the last few years. More and more companies are taking advantage of the benefits of intermodal shipping to cut down on transportation costs, fuel usage, and carbon footprint emissions. 

Let’s discuss what intermodal freight is and why you should be considering full load intermodal rail transportation for your company’s freight shipping services in Canada.

Table of contents

  1. What is intermodal shipping?
  2. What does full load intermodal shipment refer to?
  3. What is an example of intermodal transportation?
  4. Why is intermodal shipping so economical?
  5. How long does intermodal transport take?
  6. The different intermodal tansportation modes
  7. The intermodal shipping process
  8. What products can you ship using intermodal shipping?
  9. What can an intermodal container carry?
  10. Why is intermodal transportation necessary?
  11. Who should use intermodal freight transportation?

What Does Intermodal Rail Mean?

What is intermodal shipping?

Intermodal shipping is a method of transporting goods or cargo by using a combination of two or more modes of transportation to ship freight and goods from one location to another.

Intermodal freight transport can ship into the same container without handling cargo in between modes, making it one of its strengths.

What does full load intermodal shipment refer to?

When collaborating with logistics companies, you might encounter intermodal providers using specific rail industry terms that you’re unfamiliar with.

One term you may come across is ‘full load.’ In the intermodal rail shipping world, full load generally refers to a shipment that is booked to fill an entire intermodal rail container.

What is an example of intermodal transportation?

An example of intermodal transportation would be using a truck to transport goods to a train station, where the goods are then transported by rail to another destination.

This is often a more efficient and cost-effective way to move freight and cargo than using just one mode of transportation.

Why is intermodal shipping so economical?

Intermodal freight transportation container fees tend to be lower than a full truckload. They’re also easier to load on ships and unload, reducing the cost of cargo handling and labour for international shipments.

It’s also more economical than other forms of freight shipping because it can reduce the number of carriers involved in the supply chain process and cut down on the number of vehicles required to deliver a load or shipment. This is especially true when rail is involved.

How long does intermodal transport take?

The time frame for an intermodal shipment depends on what form of transportation you are using and where that destination may be located compared to your current location.

For example, North American intermodal shipment services can take a few weeks when using ship carriers for international service.

Truck, air, and train intermodal shipping services can take up to a couple of days.

And U.S cross-border delivery – well, that all depends on a variety of network capacity and carrier supply shipping restrictions. 

Are you looking for more information about full load intermodal rail shipping services within North America and Canada?

Contact a RailGateway.ca customer service expert to help you with your intermodal rail quote today. We can help you save big on your next logistics shipment.

different modes of intermodal transportation depicted in circles connected by lines

The Different Intermodal Transportation Modes

There are four modes of transportation available for intermodal shipping:

  • Road transport with trucks, trailers, and truckload deliveries
  • Rail intermodal transport with trains and railroads
  • Airfreight with aircrafts
  • Maritime transportation by boat

Intermodal freight shipping & rail service

The difference between rail and intermodal is intermodal freight services transport goods from shipper to consignee in intermodal containers by truck and rail from seaport to inland destinations.

It’s an effective form of transportation in North America, and RailGateway has been the #1 choice for intermodal shipping across Canada since 2001.

How does intermodal shipping work?

The intermodal shipping process

With international shipping costs at record highs and numerous air transportation delays, domestic intermodal shipping has become an effective and money-saving solution.

Suppose your company’s goods are transported via truck from a seaport, then loaded onto rail cars for transport inland. The intermodal transportation process can be broken as such:

  • Products are loaded onto a truck bed (chassis), then driven to the docks.
  • The container/ containers are then transported by truck or multiple trucks to an intermodal shipping dock nearby. This kind of freight transportation is often referred to as “drayage.”
  • In order to ship or haul the containers by rail, they must first be lifted off of the chassis and onto rail cars.
  • When a container is delivered to its final destination (another intermodal ramp or cross-section), it must be put back on a truck for delivery.

Once your container is on the flat car or well car, it can travel for thousands of miles before arriving at its destination.

The intermodal ramp does not only lift cargo from truck to train. They are also responsible for loading/unloading containers and trailers and all other modes that move cargo, including air intermodal shipments.

What products can you ship using intermodal shipping?

You can ship both hazardous and non-hazardous products with domestic intermodal rail shipping.

Hazardous materials require specific containers, typically a Type 7 container, and can not be interchanged.

What can an intermodal container carry?

Intermodal containers are routinely used to carry heavy machinery and equipment, furniture, non-perishable goods like clothes or electronics, and temperature-sensitive perishable goods such as seafood and medicines.

Intermodal containers can also transport liquids and refrigerated cargo. So it’s important to ensure that you book the correct intermodal shipping container for the type of cargo you’ll be sending.

The best way to answer that question is to check the type and dimensions of the containers used by your carrier or to get in touch with its team directly.

Why is intermodal transportation necessary?

The main benefits of moving freight through intermodal shipping include reduced costs, better fuel efficiency, reduced carbon footprint emissions, increased capacity in a single shipment.

There are other reasons why intermodal transport is important in the shipping market:

– Less noise pollution as trucks no longer pass through neighbourhoods or small towns

– Ease in managing the planning processes with the elimination of traffic and customs processes on major highways

– Leaner planning process, eliminating the needed support for large volume shipments that can unexpectedly disrupt supply chain networks

– Fixed departure schedules, meaning that customers can plan their intermodal deliveries, with some rail consulting of course.

For more details, look at the 7 benefits of intermodal transport on the blog!

Intermodal transportation is a critical component in the modern supply chain. It’s important to make sure you’re opting for an economical form of shipping and one that will be environmentally friendly.

Who should use intermodal freight transportation?

Intermodal shipping is available to any shipper and can help companies save money. The first and last mile is done by truck, but most of each shipment is completed by rail, assisting corporations to save on costly last-mile logistics.

Essentially the question should be, how far are you shipping?

Intermodal service can be a good choice for shippers moving goods and cargo over 800 km (500 miles) or more. Long trips require lots of fuel, but rail can help reduce this cost and promote a carbon footprint-friendly shipping mode. If your truckload must move longer than a single day, rail might be a sensible alternative.

We recommend intermodal freight service to any company transporting goods from one province to another in Canada.

Intermodal shipping is the future of transportation. With containers being cost-effective and providing unparalleled service, it’s time to try out these new ways for a successful shipment!

Become a RailGateway partner today!

Request an intermodal rail quote to speak to one of our rail consulting experts.

You’ll gain flexibility and competitive prices for your business from handling to delivery with our intermodal services.

7 Steps in Making the Jump Into Rail Shipping in Canada

This post was last updated on March, 6th 2022

If you’re not already aware, rail shipping is quickly becoming a popular way to move freight across the country.

Rail service offers many advantages over long-haul trucking and can be an excellent option for companies looking for an economical and reliable transport solution. Rail has been around for more than 150 years, and it’s only getting bigger!

It’s time that we talk about how businesses can get ready for rail transportation shipping in Canada.

Table of contents

  1. Seven Steps in Getting Started with Rail Service
    • Learn the concept of rail shipping
    • Secure your cargo
    • Determine the type of cargo
    • Determine rail routes
    • Research the best rail shipping companies in Canada
    • Get a frieght quote
    • Negotiate
  1. Four reasons why you should switch to rail transportation
    • Cost Savings on your Supply chain
    • Moving freight in a more sustainable way
    • Safety for your Rail Shipment
    • Fast Shipping for your Rail Shipment
a happy rail shipping worker giving a thumbs up to a colleague

7 Steps in Getting Started with Rail Service

Rail shipping is a great way to transport goods across the country, and it’s becoming increasingly popular among businesses. If you’re thinking of making the jump into rail shipping, there are seven steps you need to take first:

1) Learn about the concept of rail shipping and how it works.

Rail shipping is different from other forms of transportation, so it’s important to understand the process before you start using it.

2) Secure your cargo

The first step is self-evident. You must purchase the logistics you’ll need to transport your goods by rail in Canada!

Once you’ve secured your products, it’s time to think about where you want to go and how quickly.

Rail service is available between commercial zones across the country, so it’s important to find a rail-shipping partner who can help you determine which mode of transport – truck or rail – will be most economical based on your needs.

Once that’s all determined, then you’re ready to start shipping!

Rail shipping is an excellent option for companies looking to streamline their freight operations and take advantage of fast, economical deliveries.

3) Determine the type of cargo

Rail offers different services depending on your needs, including flatcars, full load intermodal containers, bulk materials, project cargos, etc.

Rail provides large quantities, long distances, and regional services for transporting many commodities.

Rail can move freight at significant savings over other modes because it is less labour-intensive when done correctly, reducing the cost per mile by as much as 25%.

Freight shipping by rail is easy when you partner with the experts at RailGateway. Contact our team of experts today!

4) Determine rail routes

Understanding and managing your inbound freight will help you determine which route is best for your shipment.

Rail is a unique mode of transportation because the train must adhere to local and federal laws. Strict rules govern rail movements, so you must have an experienced rail professional on your side who can ensure compliance with all regulations before any shipments move out.

1. Identify where your cargo shipment is arriving

2. Refer to the CN freight trains rail stations and terminals map

3. Cross-reference stations and terminals with distribution centers

4. Determine if there are any gaps within the pick and drop off locations

5. Determine if the freight can be delivered to a loading dock or does it need door-to-door service

At RailGateway, we can help determine any other options and identify the fastest, most cost-effective routes! Contact one of our rail intermodal service representatives to get started on rail transportation. Rail is a great way to ship, and we’d love to help you learn how!

5) Research the best rail shipping companies in Canada.

Not all companies offer the same services or rates, so it’s important to do your homework and find a company that meets your needs.

6) Get a Freight Quote

Once you’ve determined the type of cargo that needs to be shipped, it’s time to request a quote.

The easiest thing you can do is contact RailGateway with your full load intermodal shipping requirements.

We will work with you to determine the best option for your rail freight shipment and provide an accurate estimate, so there are no surprises when it comes to costs!

At Railgateway, we offer a broad range of rail shipping services ideal for customers shipping commodities in bulk. We can help arrange expedited door-to-door transportation with fast pickup and delivery options designed to meet tight time constraints at affordable prices.

7) Negotiate

Rail companies are constantly looking for new business, so they’ll likely be open to negotiating with small to medium-sized companies that want their services.

If negotiations go well, you’ll want to conduct a test run with your product to ensure that it’s the right size and meets rail freight regulations.

Once your shipments comply with rail regulations, then you’re ready for the final step – shipping!

Four reasons why you should switch to rail transportation

Rail transport has many advantages. It represents an efficient transportation model for companies to move materials worldwide.

1. Cost Savings on your Supply chain

Benefits include operating costs savings with a lower cost per mile than trucking, as they can ship higher volumes of merchandise at once.

2. Moving freight in a more sustainable way

As an environmentally friendly alternative to trucks, rail freight service also allows having less congestion on highways and better fuel efficiency than trailers. That also converts in fewer greenhouse gas emissions!

3. Safety for your Rail Shipment

Rail shipments are also more secure than other forms of transportation. Rail transport moves in a safe rail network, monitored continuously by Rail Authorities.

4. Fast Shipping for your Rail Shipment

Rail transportation is getting faster every day across Canada, making it an excellent option for today’s businesses’ “just-in-time” delivery schedules.

Forget about unexpected congestion on the road, shipping on rail lines will make it easier!

Note that if your plants or warehouses don’t have direct rail access, most of them can also offer door-to-door service with convenient pickup options for items that can’t be delivered to a loading dock as extras!

Here are a few things to know before you start booking a freight train

There are some key things that businesses should keep in mind when preparing rail freight.

Rail transportation is not like trucking or other modes of transport run here in North America.

Train service operates on different systems and follows very specific guidelines for weight, size, hazardous materials, dangerous goods handling, etc.

Rail does not transport certain hazardous materials; this includes radioactive, corrosive, or flammable items, which must be labelled correctly before shipping via rail in Canada.

Looking for a Rail Freight Partner in Canada?

Rail Freight in Canada

Rail freight services have always been an important part of Canadian industry thanks to their many advantages over other forms of transport.

The rail network is operating in the most common parts of Canada thanks to major rail companies like Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway, and intermodal traffic is increasing day after day.

If you’re interested in learning more about the top 18 railway terminals in Canada, check out our blog post to learn about the best rail terminals in Canada.

Wondering how you can make rail shipping a reality for your business?

With RailGateway, Canada rail freight shipping has never been easier. Contact our experts to know our intermodal rail services or request a rail freight quote here.

For more tips on getting started with intermodal rail transport, visit our blog!

Getting Started with Rail Intermodal Transport

This post was last updated on March, 6th 2022

Most Canadian businesses are familiar with the term “intermodal transport” as a means to transport goods throughout the country. But what many companies may not realize is that intermodal transportation can help Canadian businesses save money, reduce their carbon footprint, and increase productivity.

This blog post will discuss the who, what, and why of intermodal transport.

Table of contents

  1. Intermodal Transportation and Intermodal Shipping Services Explained
    • Intermodal transportation: A quick definition
    • How does intermodal transportation work?
    • The difference between multimodal transport and intermodal transportation
  2. The 4 Types of Intermodal Transportation
    • Truck transport intermodal
    • Rail intermodal transportation
    • Airfreight intermodal
    • Sea or Ocean freight intermodal transport
  3. Intermodal transportation: The benefits every business owner should know
    • Reduced transportation costs
    • Increased Efficiency
    • Increased Reliability
    • Environmental Friendliness
    • Reduced Inventory Levels
    • Increased Security
    • Time Savings
intermodal transport signal light at train platform tracks

Intermodal Transportation and Intermodal Shipping Services Explained

The intermodal transportation industry is booming, and for a good reason. It’s not just the low transportation costs that make intermodal rail transport so appealing to businesses; it’s also more efficient and reliable.

Most Canadians know intermodal transport as truckload or rail transportation. But a lack of knowledge, outdated metrics, and misconceptions about intermodal transport have combined to suppress its market value – making it a genuinely untapped market for businesses.

Intermodal transport: A quick definition

Intermodal transportation is the method of transporting cargo via intermodal containers between two or more modes of transport.

The advantage is that the handling of goods reduces significantly. This is because, with intermodal freight transport, the container is the unit of transportation rather than the cargo. The container is loaded once and then travels by road, rail, or ship to its destination.

How does intermodal transportation work?

The intermodal transport process begins on a truck or railcar, where cargo is unloaded and placed into an intermodal container.

These containers are then transferred to the intermodal terminal via ocean freight or vice versa. When arriving at the final destination, they’re offloaded for domestic shipping and delivery by rail and trucking companies.

The difference between multimodal transport and intermodal transportation

A common misconception is that intermodal transport and multimodal transportation are the same.

When a container is moved via multiple modes of transportation without being opened, it’s called intermodal.

But if goods inside are opened and transferred to another mode of transportation, it becomes known as multimodal transport.

The 4 Types of Intermodal Transport Modes

  1. Truck transport intermodal
  2. Rail intermodal transportation
  3. Airfreight intermodal
  4. Sea or Ocean freight intermodal transport

Road transport intermodal

Truckload shipping is a method of transporting goods overland. A designated trucking company is generally hired for moving freight from one point to another quickly and efficiently, often between cities or provinces within Canada.

As road transport is more flexible, trucks are often employed for the “last mile transport,” corresponding to the journey’s pick-up or final destination.

Intermoda rail transport

Rail intermodal is the process of loading cargo onto railcars at origin and unloading it at the destination.

It’s often used when moving goods over long distances and offers a cost-effective alternative to truck intermodal freight shipping services.

Airfreight intermodal

Air intermodal is transporting cargo by air from the origin point to the airport for transfer into an aircraft or vice versa.

Maritime transport

Sea and ocean intermodal means transporting goods by boat from one point to another.

It’s an eco-friendly way for a company to reduce its carbon footprint and save them money on fuel costs compared to trucking but not necessarily in comparison with rail.

Intermodal transportation: The benefits every business owner should know

1. Reduced transportation costs

The use of intermodal containers allows for cargo consolidation and eliminates the need for multiple handling. This reduces the number of labour hours required and fuel consumption and emissions.

2. Increased Efficiency

Loading and unloading containers is faster than loading and unloading cargo from trucks or railway wagons. This is due to the standardization of containers and the use of container handling equipment.

3. Increased Reliability

The intermodal transportation network is far more reliable than road transport. Trucks can break down, traffic jams occur, and weather conditions disrupt deliveries. But a well-run intermodal transport system is rarely affected by such incidents.

4. Environmental Friendliness

Sea and intermodal transport are the most environmentally-friendly options for transporting goods over long distances. Road transport is not as fuel-efficient as intermodal and generates more emissions.

5. Reduced Inventory Levels

Using intermodal transportation can help companies reduce their inventory levels, as stock can be transported more quickly and efficiently using the combined transport network.

6. Increased Security

Intermodal transportation offers a high level of security for cargo. Containers are sealed at the point of loading and only opened at the destination, minimizing the risk of theft or damage to the goods.

7. Time Savings

Intermodal transportation can save companies time, as goods can be transported more quickly and efficiently using the combined transport network.


Intermodal transport is a great way to reduce shipping costs for any company. It can also increase efficiency and reliability by moving cargo quickly, reliably, and cost-effectively.

The intermodal transportation network is far more reliable than road transport as trucks break down or get stuck in traffic jams, whereas intermodal freight doesn’t have that problem.

In addition, intermodal transportation is environmentally friendly and can reduce a company’s inventory levels.

Security-wise, intermodal freight containers are sealed and only opened at the destination to minimize any thefts or damage during transport.

Finally, time savings are perhaps one of the most essential benefits companies can reap from intermodal transport.

All in all, intermodal freight transportation is a great way to move cargo and should be taken into serious consideration for any business looking to ship goods over long distances.

Are you looking for a comprehensive intermodal rail quote? Contact one of our experts today and save.