10 Types of Intermodal Cargo You Can Ship in Containers

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Amylee Silva

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This post was last updated on January 25th, 2024

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 freight that you can ship in containers across Canada’s intermodal terminals.

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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.

Fresh Veggies

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 Foods

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 cross border freight shippers that need to send a 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.

Oil Barrels

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!

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