The Intermodal Container: Everything you want and need to know about Containerization

The intermodal container has been a fixture in the shipping industry for decades. It’s seen as the best way to transport goods, and now it’s 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, 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 to include: automotive, food and beverage, retail goods, and more.

The first successful intermodal container is said to have been designed by American trucking entrepreneur Malcom McLean in 1956. And since its modernization, intermodal transport has been a leading industry in the country and across borders.

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

What is an Intermodal Container?

The container (cargo container) is an intermodal freight transport system used primarily in international trade. They can come in all shapes and sizes and can be 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 have the ability to move around the world quickly and in general, with ease. 

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

Container characteristics and regulations

The most common type, dry freight containers are also commonly referred to as intermodal or shipping containers. They are usually 8 feet wide by 8.6 feet in height. In recent years, however, high cube containers measuring 9.6 feet high, have become more popular.

Containers (cargo doors) come with a door at either end so that they can 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

In comparison 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

Are temperature-controlled intermodal containers designed to carry temperature-sensitive goods such as frozen food. Heated containers also offer freeze 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. It has an internal floor area of 146 sq ft and 1,172 cubic ft of volume and is 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.

At RailGateway we specialise 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.

What is the biggest shipping container size?

53 foot High Cube Container – General Purpose containers, are the largest on the market and are built specifically for international trade. These larger-sized shipping containers have 60% more capacity than standard 40-foot containers.

3 Types of Cargo Shipped in Intermodal Containers

Intermodal shipping containers transport a variety of cargo, including:

  1. Consumer goods – intermodal containerization is an excellent solution for companies looking to consolidate their inventory and ship it overseas or across 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.

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 as 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 if you want help managing 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 customers’ needs.

Which part of our discussion on intermodal transportation do you think was the most interesting? Let us know what other topics would interest you about intermodal transport here.