Choosing Your Intermodal Carrier: What to Look for & 28 Questions To Ask

engineer or foreman working as an intermodal carrier in a container shipping yard
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Amylee Silva

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This post was last updated on March 6th, 2022

Choosing an intermodal carrier can be tricky. There are many intermodal transportation providers out there, but not all offer the same services or prices.

If you want to make sure that you choose the best one for your freight transport needs, then read on! 

In this article, we’ll discuss four types of intermodal freight transportation providers and what questions to ask before choosing one.

Table of contents

  1. Understanding Intermodal Freight Transportation
  2. What to Look For in an Intermodal Carrier?
  3. 28 Questions You Should Ask an Intermodal Shipping Provider
  4. Our Final Advice On Choosing Your Perfect Shipping Partner
aerial view of intermodal freight transportation containers on railroad tracks

Understanding Intermodal Freight Transportation

The growth of intermodal shipping in Canada

Though intermodal freight shipping in Canada is expected to decline in revenue by 3.3% (Rail Transportation industry in Canada), the intermodal freight transportation industry has grown immensely over the past decade.

Now worth $25.2 Billion (2020), experts predict that it will grow to US$68 Billion by 2027.

As this shipping solution market continues its rapid expansion, many businesses are wondering which intermodal providers are available for them to use? And how do they choose one?

Of course, choosing the right intermodal provider can be difficult. There are many factors to consider, and it’s not always clear which one is best for your business. 

The first step is figuring out what intermodal shipping is and what type(s) of intermodal service you require. 

What is the meaning of intermodal transportation?

Intermodal is a freight transport system where goods are moved using various transportation modes, using intermodal trucking services, the railway system, or even air and ocean routes if shipping internationally.

The real specificity of intermodal shipping is that intermodal containers are used by these logistics companies in order to keep the load into the same container from departure to the final destination.

It makes it a great, cheap, and safe solution if your overall freight distance is exceeding 500 miles.

The different intermodal transportation modes

  • Rail transport
  • Airfreight
  • Truck
  • Ocean freight

The intermodal shipping process

When intermodal shipping is involved, freight companies use two or more modes of transportation to move your goods.

The intermodal carriers first load the cargo into an intermodal container, then ship it, usually by truck, to an intermodal ramp. There, it will be lifted and moved to a flat car to be shipped by rail, boat or plane.

It might be transferred one more time thanks to intermodal trucking companies for the last mile delivery, so it can reach its final destination via road transport.

This process allows great fuel efficiency, lower carbon footprint, and consistent delivery times that are more cost-effective than other options.

Types of intermodal transportation services

The intermodal shipping process often involves the use of railroad systems to transport goods, and it’s worth noting that there are two different types of intermodal freight transport, both of which include rail:

  • A container on a flatcar (COFC) is an efficient and cost-effective form of intermodal shipping in which four containers may be loaded simultaneously onto a well-car.
  • The trailer-on-flatcar (TOFC) method is the type of intermodal transport in which an over-the-road trailer (OTR) is placed directly on the well-car.

What to Look For in an Intermodal Carrier?

Who are the intermodal carriers?

The intermodal freight transportation provider is a key player in the supply chain.

They provide freight forwarding, intermodal trucking options, intermodal rail service, intermodal container shipping, and intermodal ocean or air freight services to companies that want to ship their products across the country with minimal hassle.

Depending on their specific intermodal services, they are the ones that can provide the loading equipment freight containers. They might also arrange coordination when changing transportation modes or extra assistance.

While one sole company may not offer all these intermodal shipping services in-house, having a clearly outlined intermodal process can help you work with a combination of partners at the right times.

How to choose a reliable intermodal carrier?

An intermodal provider should offer most of the services mentioned above and should be happy to answer any questions you may have about their service before finalizing your decision!

Over and above the services provided, intermodal shippers should:

  • Have experience in intermodal freight shipping
  • Offer dropped intermodal container fees discounts and reduce transportation costs based on your company’s volume
  • Provide exceptional customer service for any questions that may arise before, during, and after the intermodal shipping process!
rail cargo foreman talking with crew and pointing off into the distance

28 Questions You Should Ask an Intermodal Shipping Provider 

Basic questions about their intermodal services

  • What types of intermodal services do you offer?
  • What is your intermodal process?
  • What intermodal services do you offer for my business? (specialized trucking? intermodal rail services? Ocean freight? Airfreight?)
  • How will it affect my company’s supply chain?
  • What are the sizes of the containers you operate with?
  • Do you have temperature-controlled or refrigerated containers?

Price-related questions

  • What are your base costs associated with the services you offer?
  • Are there any additional accessorial fees that may apply after delivery, such as customs clearance or terminal handling charges (THC)?
  • If so, who is responsible for them, and when must they be paid to prevent delays in receiving my cargo? 

Operational questions

  • Do I need to book a container ahead of time, or can you drop-ship on demand at competitive prices?
  • How far in advance should I book an intermodal shipment?
  • Do you have your fleet of trucks/container carriers/rail equipment? Or do you work with other intermodal transportation freight providers depending on the shipment?
  • If so, which partners do you work with?
  • What are your intermodal container recycling policies (i.e., what happens if a customer decides not to ship into that particular intermodal provider’s yard)
  • What intermodal freight shipping schedule can you offer me?
  • What allows you to meet shipping deadlines?

Location-wise questions

  • What ports/airports do your transportation services use most often for shipping intermodal containers across the country?
  • What is the usual delay for a domestic intermodal shipment from X to X?
  • Where is your intermodal facility located, and when can I pick up my cargo to avoid delivery delays?
  • What intermodal rail terminals do your serve?

Questions about the Insurance of the shipments

  • Do you have proof of insurance on hand for me to see during the consulting process?
  • Or will it be available upon request once we’ve discussed freight forwarding pricing quotes?
  • Is there intermodal shipping insurance? Who and what is insured?

Questions related to the tracking of the shipments

  • How is the intermodal freight service tracked?
  • Can your team contact us with updates on the delivery of my shipment?
  • What intermodal freight tracking technology do you use?
  • Is it live tracking?
  • Can I have access to that information at any time, or shall I get in touch with you?

Our Final Advice On Choosing Your Perfect Shipping Partner

When looking for intermodal transportation services, it’s crucial to find and work with an intermodal provider that can grow with you while saving you money.

Ask questions about their process before finalizing your decision so you can be sure they have experience in the types of services you need.

Make sure they offer discounts and can provide you with great customer service by answering any questions that may arise during the course of business with them.

A good partner will have an established intermodal process in place. They should also be able to provide intermodal shipping insurance and assist you through each shipment step by step!

By answering these questions, you can ensure your intermodal transportation provider is trustworthy and committed to providing quality services for businesses like yours.

You’ll leave knowing whether or not they have their own fleet of trucks/container carriers/rail equipment so that there are no surprises in costs down the line when it comes time to book.

Great customer service skills will mean that any concerns you may have about the intermodal transport process will be answered promptly, which ensures minimal delays in delivery!

Finally, environmentally conscious policies such as recycling intermodal containers will show that they care about the future of intermodal transportation and are committed to providing sustainable intermodal services.

Request an Intermodal Rail Freight Quote today.

Are you wondering if intermodal shipping will work for your business? At, we help Canadian companies move their full load freight in a simple, low-cost, high-quality method that cannot be matched anywhere!

Make the switch to intermodal shipments! Get a FREE rail freight quote today and see the difference we can make in your logistics!

What to read next?

Check out our post on the top intermodal transportation trends for 2023.

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