Intermodal Contracts for Beginners

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Amylee Silva

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When you think about freight transportation, two terms come into mind; intermodal and multimodal transportation. Both transport methods involve moving your shipment from the origin to the destination using several methods in between.

These transportation methods can include rail, ship, barge, truck, or a combination of transport carriers. And can also mean different carriers were used to transport the goods at every stage of the journey.

Not only do you have to pick the ideal intermodal shipping process for your firm, but you must also select the best intermodal contract rates available. Let us help you decide.

What is Intermodal Freight Transportation?

Intermodal transportation refers to two or more transportation modes to move cargo from one intermodal terminal in the original country to another destination, often in another country. The unique characteristic of the intermodal shipping process is that every step of the process has a different provider with a separate contract.

Several businesses use the intermodal shipping method to get their cargo to the final destination. One of the reasons for choosing intermodal pricing is because it reduces freight costs. It also reduces the amount of handling on your cargo throughout the trip. The method also allows drivers to deal with more loads at reduced periods.

The critical difference between intermodal transportation and truckload shipping is the harmonic vibrations. The vibration on the rail transportation segment can move the freight vertically, laterally, and longitudinally. If your cargo is not braced or blocked properly, the harmonic vibrations will move it, unlike truckload transportation. The movement can cause overweight problems for the shippers and lead to damages.

Blocking and bracing your cargo correctly isn’t complex. It can be as simple as using some wood blocks and the right size of nails.

Is intermodal shipping service complicated?

There is a misunderstanding that the cargo transportation method is complicated because of the many steps involved in moving cargo. However, the process has become less cumbersome and more efficient.

Intermodal providers use data analysis to make transportation adjustments on their end, or they can make recommendations on improving the process from your end. Additionally, the intermodal provider will evaluate key performance indicators to help you make critical improvements to your business.

Benefits of Using the Intermodal Freight Transportation

  • It is a cheaper than truckload
  • Enhanced security
  • optimizes the truck and rail efficacy
  • Minimizes highway congestion
  • Sustainable
  • Easy to monitor
  • Uses environmentally friendly carriers

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) outlines the journey while using intermodal transport starting from the manufacturer where you fix the container to a chassis. It’s loaded with freight, and a dray motor carrier drives it to the origin railroad ramp. When the container gets to the intermodal ramp, it’s moved from the chassis and loaded onto a well car.

The intermodal container then moves across the railroad network using the train cars until the final destination. Once the container gets to the destination, a truck carries and delivers it to its final destination.

Types of Intermodal Services 

Intermodal services come in two types: Container-on-Flatcar (COFC) and Trailer-on-Flatcar (TOFC). In the latter, you place the Over-the-road trailer onto the well car.

COFC became prominent in the 1980s because of its cost-effectiveness to load four containers on a well car.

Common Issues Around Intermodal Transportation

Intermodal transportation comes with its advantages and disadvantages. However, some are not disadvantages but are misconceptions that people in the freight market share regarding the intermodal journey.

It’ll be best to evaluate the value that intermodal transportation adds to your business. Some of the misconceptions about intermodal transportation include:

Unreliable Service 

Shippers that are not conversant with the shipping method think of railroad transport as slow. However, the intermodal service is reputable for its timely deliveries that beat the truckload. Rail transit has precise schedules that ensure your freight gets to its destination on time. The railroad also has the advantage of consistent planning over a long time.

Long Times on Transit 

Unfortunately, intermodal freight transportation has been a slow method over time. The reputation is born from a belief from shippers that since the mode of transport is on the rail, it’ll feature the same transit that railcars have.

However, railroads are aware of their competition by truckload. So they strive to offer a different service using the intermodal method.

Intermodal transportation on a single railroad is the same as a truckload transit plus one day. If the intermodal freight is intertwined between two railroads, the transportation is the same as truckload transit plus another two days. Some intermodal lanes offer you the same transit that you get from truckload. Furthermore, unlike the truckload, the railroads will move even on weekends, meaning a slow transportation method is a misconception.

Loss and Damage 

One of the concerns that shippers have with a freight transportation method is the loss and damage of their cargo. It’ll be best if the transportation method offers optimum freight safety.

As mentioned earlier, the element of vibrations on the rail segment of intermodal can move the freight longitudinally, vertically, and laterally. If you don’t block and brace the cargo properly, the vibrations can damage and cause overweight issues.


Another misconception regarding intermodal transportation is that it is complicated. The complication is seen in the various steps to get cargo from the origin to the final destination.

However, there is no complication as the transportation process has become efficient over time. Additionally, your transport provider will make the necessary adjustments to your strategy, or they can recommend how you can adjust to make the journey more effective. The recommendations come from data analysis, making them ideal for improving your business.

Intermodal freight transportation is an excellent option if you want to move your cargo from origin to its final destination. It is not uncommon to confuse intermodal and multimodal transport methods.

One of the key differences is that intermodal involves using different modes, including rail and truck transport. It can also involve various contracts at every step of the journey. The method is safe, reliable and will get your shipment to its final destination on time.

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