Choosing a Carrier: 4 Types of Intermodal Providers, What to Look for and Questions To Ask

Choosing an intermodal carrier can be tricky. There are many intermodal transportation providers out there, but not all of them 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 4 types of intermodal freight transportation providers and what questions to ask before choosing one.

aerial view of intermodal freight transportation containers on railroad tracks

Understanding Intermodal Freight Transportation

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 type(s) of intermodal service you require. 

Types of intermodal transportation

  • Rail transport
  • Air freight
  • Truck
  • Ocean freight

The Intermodal Shipping Process

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

They might first load the cargo into an intermodal container, then ship it by truck, rail, or plane, to its final destination via road transport once more.

This process allows for fuel-efficient 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, 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

The intermodal freight transportation provider is a key player in the supply chain. They provide freight forwarding, intermodal trucking, intermodal rail, intermodal container shipping, and intermodal air freight services to companies that want to ship their products across the country with minimal hassle.

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.

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

Over and above the services provided, an intermodal shipments partner should:

  • Have experience in intermodal freight shipping
  • Offer dropped intermodal container fees, discounts and reduce 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!

Questions You Should Ask an Intermodal Shipping Provider 

  • What types of intermodal services do you offer?
  • What is your intermodal process?
  • What intermodal services do you offer for my business, how will it affect the supply chain, and what are your costs associated with these services?
  • 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?
  • Are there any additional 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? 
  • Do you have your own 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?
  • Where is your intermodal facility located and when can I pick up my cargo to avoid delivery delays?
  • Is there intermodal shipping insurance? Who and what is insured?
  • 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?
  • 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 ports/airports do your transportation services use most often for shipping intermodal containers across the country?

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.

Make the switch to intermodal shipments. At we help Canadian companies move their full load freight in a simple, low-cost, high-quality method that cannot be matched anywhere! Get a FREE quote today.