Preparing for Success with Intermodal Rail: Reducing the Risk of Loss, Damage, and Claims

red intermodal rail container floating in the ocean or sea
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Amylee Silva

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This post was last updated on July 10th, 2022

The intermodal rail industry has seen a steady increase in goods shipped by intermodal rail containers and more and more companies are choosing railroads by taking advantage of the efficiencies of intermodal transportation.

Unfortunately, many businesses are unaware that they may be exposed to increased risks.

At, we want you to know what the risks are so you can prepare yourself for domestic intermodal rail success.

This blog post will go over the steps needed to reduce the risk of loss, damage, and claims from shipping with rail intermodal.

Table of contents

  1. Five Steps in Reducing Risk in Your Intermodal Supply Chain

Intermodal Freight Rail

What is intermodal rail?

Intermodal rail freight is the transportation of goods by combining two or more modes of transport. The most common intermodal combinations are:

– Rail and Truck
– Rail and Ship
– Truck and Ship

Rail intermodal has become a preferred choice for companies shipping goods long distances because it’s more efficient on the long haul portion of the shipping journey than by truckload alone.

Indeed, the rail service operating with intermodal containers can hold more cargo than trucks. They can also travel and be transferred much faster from one part of the supply chain to another, as cargo handling is unnecessary when using an intermodal container.

Intermodal freight rail is also a more environmentally-friendly option than trucking and can considerably reduce transportation costs on your bottom line.

Curious about the other advantages of intermodal shipping? Check out other benefits of intermodal transport.

The evolution of rail intermodal traffic

The world of shipping logistics is changing and evolving, and so are the options available to shippers.

Domestic intermodal traffic and international intermodal shipping are constantly growing, especially in North America.

In the United States, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) recorded a rise in intermodal traffic of +4,9% of intermodal units shipped in 2021 vs 2020 and stated that 2021 was the second-best year ever for intermodal shipping after 2018!

Rail Intermodal has many benefits over other modes of intermodal transport, such as trucking or air freight, but it also comes with some unique uncertainties for your cargo. 

One way to reduce these risks is by being prepared in advance, and there’s a lot you can do ahead of time that will make your experience with rail go smoothly from start to finish!

damaged cardboard box next to a transport truck

5 Steps in Reducing the Risk in Your Rail Supply Chain Intermodal Service

Shipping with rail is a safe and secure way to move freight. That said, you can’t prevent loss or damage all of the time, but you can be prepared for them when it does happen.

Step 1: Packaging & Containers

The first step you can take is knowing how your vendor handles your rail freight.

It’s generally the most straightforward instructions that have the biggest impact. When packing your items, you should constantly examine how your vendors handle your freight and how well they follow proper practices.

Shipments must be packed in a container that’s appropriate for their contents. Never exceed the maximum capacity of the gross weight of the container.

Double stacked containers have a maximum stack load. Stacking pins are used to organize and stack containers on top of one another. And each pin has a locking pin on one end and a plate.

Containers locked together can help minimize the chance that they will shift during transit. As a result, container stacking pins are usually worth the investment.

Lastly, any content susceptible to being damaged during transport should be wrapped or packed securely in the container.

Step 2: Shipment and rail transport labelling

The next step in preparing your rail freight for success is labelling.

Railroad companies require that all shipments are correctly labelled with the appropriate information to help identify and track shipments.

It’s also important to remember that light markings may fade with time, so labels on equipment or containers should be maintained and replaced regularly.

In addition to this, there are a few other labelling tips that can help reduce the risk of loss and damage when shipping with rail:

  • Labels should not be placed on sealing tape or over a seam or closure.
  • Cover old labels or remove them entirely
  • Place an identical form of address information within the container for added security.

Step 3: Have the appropriate personnel in place

It’s imperative to employ skilled and experienced personnel and choose a trustworthy intermodal carrier to examine each shipment thoroughly.

  • Is the correct number of containers accounted for?
  • Is anything damaged?
  • If boxes are open, are all the contents accounted for and in good condition?

It’s also best to ensure that inspections are done thoroughly before signing for any shipment.

Step 4: Choose the right lift equipment

Moving freight with the right equipment can make a real difference in your logistics.

A forklift is a valuable tool for any company that needs to stack containers.

Forklifts come in different types, depending on the height of your stacks and what kind of job you need.

If it looks like there might be any trouble handling larger loads, consider using cranes.

Step 5: Make sure you have a plan

When working with any form of intermodal volume to move cargo on freight railroads, it’s essential to know your rights as a shipper.

If cargo is misplaced or damaged, you’ll need to know the next steps and who to contact. 

Stop the unloading process if there is any sign of damage and notify your carrier and insurance provider as soon as possible.

If there is extensive damage, your transportation company may demand that a surveyor be sent to assist with the unloading.

Railgateway is here to help you with any loss or damage questions that you may have. We are committed to providing our clients with reliable, safe, and cost-effective services.

It would help to familiarize yourself with your rail intermodal insurance policy to know what it entails. And take note of any emergency contact details just in case.

Being prepared ahead of time can help ensure a smooth, quick recovery when issues arise, so be sure to have a plan and an intermodal transportation partner you can trust!

Common causes of cargo damage:

  • Packing Carelessly
  • Labels and markings that are incorrect
  • Unsafe movement of mechanical handling equipment
  • Incorrect weight loads & lifting gear

Shipping by rail offers several advantages over multiple modes of transportation. It’s generally faster, more cost-effective, and can be safer with the proper precautions.

Want to make the jump into rail intermodal shipping in Canada?

At RailGateway, we’re committed to helping you prepare for success with intermodal rail so that your shipments arrive safely and on time, every time.

Whether you’re shipping from Montreal to Vancouver, Toronto to Edmonton to Calgary, and back again – we have the experience you need to ship your cargo from the East Coast to the West.

Request your FREE Rail Freight Quote today!

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