Intermodal Freight Transportation: The Safest Way to Ship Your Goods

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Amylee Silva

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This post was last updated on March 31st, 2022

Sending high volumes of goods via intermodal freight can be tricky and scary. What if the merchandise is damaged during transport? What if it’s stolen? What if it never arrives at its destination?

These are typical concerns that business owners have when shipping their goods. But intermodal freight transportation can help ease those worries.

Today, in our blog post, we’ll explain how intermodal freight transportation is handled and explain why and how it’s a safe way to ship this cargo. Maybe even the safest?

Getting to Know Intermodal Freight Shipping

Intermodal freight transportation has been the industry standard for shipping large quantities of goods internationally, domestically, and within regions.

But what does intermodal mean?

Intermodal freight transportation is a shipping process that combines two or more modes of transport to ship goods across long distances. This could include ground, water, and rail transportation, for instance.

By using intermodal freight shipping, cargo owners can enjoy the benefits of using different modes of transport depending on the situation and the goods that need to be transported.

This flexibility is one of the main reasons intermodal shipping is so popular.

Why is it called intermodal?

Intermodal comes from the Latin words “inter” (between) and “modal” (modes), referring then to shipping goods by splitting transportation between different methods.

What are the types of intermodal transportation?

Contrary to the full truckload shipment, intermodal transportation use several transportation modes to move cargo between points in the supply chain, including:

  • Ground transportation with intermodal trucks,
  • Freight rail service with trains,
  • Water with container ships,
  • And air service with planes.

The Common Intermodal Shipping Process

1. Get in touch with intermodal providers

The shipper will want to contact a freight forwarder or an intermodal shipping services provider to understand what is being shipped, the size and weight, and where it needs to go.

2. Defining the optimal route for your intermodal shipments

Once you find the perfect partner and sign an intermodal contract for your intermodal shipping needs, they’ll help you determine the multiple modes of transportation required to complete the shipment.

They will mainly consider factors such as cost, time, type of cargo, and the goods’ final destination.

3. The common intermodal transport operations

Once the intermodal shipping process is initiated, it’s important to keep in mind that there are several handoffs along the way, but everything is happening in a seamless manner.

That’s the beauty of intermodal transportation!

This means that your cargo will be loaded onto a one and only intermodal container, which will then be transferred from truck to train, vessel or plane.

Indeed, every time a carrier gets to an intermodal ramp to make a switch to the next transportation mode of the intermodal journey, the container will be lifted off of the train, truck, or else and then be moved directly onto another intermodal transportation mode without the need to unload the cargo.

This operation can repeat as many times as necessary until it reaches the final destination.

Note: Because the intermodal transportation network uses intermodal containers to move products, it has also been dubbed containerized shipping.

The Main Intermodal Freight Advantages That You Should Know

Intermodal cuts down on wasted space at ports and terminals and reduces highway congestion.

Using the railway system for a good part of intermodal freight transport also helps reduce transportation costs for the shipper. The workforce that needs to intervene is limited; the quantity shipped can be higher, allowing shipment economy of scale.

Overall, rail intermodal traffic is usually a cheaper method to transport goods.

According to the Association of American Railroads, freight railroads would also be four times more fuel-efficient than truck-only shipments, thus inducing a lower carbon footprint.

But fuel efficiency, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly are not the only advantages of intermodal freight shipping.

Safety is another highlight of the intermodal shipping business. Let us tell you why.

Is Intermodal Transportation the Safest Way to Ship Your Cargo?

Intermodal shipping also allows your cargo to be shipped in the same container via the most direct route, which reduces the chance of delays and increases security. This is due to a variety of reasons.

Safe intermodal vehicles

For starters, intermodal transportation uses trucks designed for long-distance hauls. This means they have more safety features than regular semis, like reinforced frames and stronger suspensions.

They also have more modern braking systems, allowing the driver to stop the vehicle quickly if needed.

Slight handling of the merchandise

Intermodal shipments use containers that can be easily transferred from one mode of transport to another – by truck, train, barge, or even aircraft – without unloading their contents.

For the intermodal shippers, this represents a more secure method of transporting goods since it minimizes the amount of handling they receive and, potentially, limits the damages and breakage of the merchandise.

Fewer accidents on the roads

Intermodal freight transportation allows the shipment of products over long distances, usually employing railroads to cover the land-based segments.

And in case of environmental hazards, snow, heavy rain, or others, trains are usually more resilient than road transport.

Fewer losses of goods

Since this transportation involves using an intermodal container with locked doors, the chance of your goods being lost or stolen is significantly lower than the merchandise being transported on the highway.

An improved shipment tracking

Whereas following the route of your intermodal freight shipment was difficult in the past, these times are over.

Most of the intermodal containers are now equipped with a GPS tracking system (satellite or cellular), so you can easily monitor their location and movements at all times, making them more secure for both the logistics companies and consignees.

As you can see, other than its eco-shipping and reduced cost service, intermodal freight shipping is then also a very safe way to ship your goods.

Not only does intermodal transportation use vehicles that are designed for long-haul distances, but they also use containers that can be easily transferred from one mode of transport to another without unloading their contents, limiting loss, damages, and breakage of the goods.

Accidents due to harsh weather conditions can also be limited, thanks to trains on risky segments. Finally, the tracking of intermodal containers has improved in the past years.

Those elements make intermodal freight a reliable, safe, and cost-effective way to transport your cargo.

Are you not convinced yet? Contact us today for more information!

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