The Who, What, Why and How of Intermodal Shipping (Plus how it can save you money)

Intermodal shipping train at sunset
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Amylee Silva

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This post was last updated on December, 23rd 2022

The intermodal shipping industry has changed a lot over the last few years. More and more companies are taking advantage of the benefits of intermodal shipping to cut down on transportation costs, fuel usage, and carbon footprint emissions. 

Let’s discuss intermodal freight and why you should consider full-load intermodal rail transportation for your company’s freight shipping services in Canada and cross border into the US via the Mississippi corridor railway.

Table of contents

  1. What is intermodal shipping?
  2. What does full load intermodal shipment refer to?
  3. What is an example of intermodal transportation?
  4. Why is intermodal shipping so economical?
  5. How long does intermodal transport take?
  6. The different intermodal tansportation modes
  7. The intermodal shipping process
  8. What products can you ship using intermodal shipping?
  9. What can an intermodal container carry?
  10. Why is intermodal transportation necessary?
  11. Who should use intermodal freight transportation?

What Does Intermodal Rail Mean?

What is intermodal shipping?

Intermodal shipping is a method of transporting goods or cargo by using a combination of two or more modes of transportation to ship freight and goods from one location to another.

Intermodal freight transport can ship into the same container without handling cargo in between modes, making it one of its strengths.

What does full load intermodal shipment refer to?

When collaborating with logistics companies, you might encounter intermodal providers using specific rail industry terms that you’re unfamiliar with.

One term you may come across is ‘full load.’ In the intermodal rail shipping world, full load generally refers to a shipment that is booked to fill an entire intermodal rail container.

What is an example of intermodal transportation?

An example of intermodal transportation would be using a truck to transport goods to a train station, where the goods are then transported by rail to another destination.

This is often a more efficient and cost-effective way to move freight and cargo than using just one mode of transportation.

Why is intermodal shipping so economical?

Intermodal freight transportation container fees tend to be lower than a full truckload. They’re also easier to load on ships and unload, reducing the cost of cargo handling and labour for international shipments.

It’s also more economical than other forms of freight shipping because it can reduce the number of carriers involved in the supply chain process and cut down on the number of vehicles required to deliver a load or shipment. This is especially true when rail is involved.

How long does intermodal transport take?

The time frame for an intermodal shipment depends on what form of transportation you are using and where that destination may be located compared to your current location.

For example, North American intermodal shipment services can take a few weeks when using ship carriers for international service.

Truck, air, and train intermodal shipping services can take up to a couple of days.

And U.S cross-border delivery – well, that all depends on a variety of network capacity and carrier supply shipping restrictions. 

Are you looking for more information about full load intermodal rail shipping services within North America and Canada?

Contact a customer service expert to help you with your intermodal rail quote today. We can help you save big on your next logistics shipment.

different modes of intermodal transportation depicted in circles connected by lines

The Different Intermodal Transportation Modes

There are four modes of transportation available for intermodal shipping:

  • Road transport with trucks, trailers, and truckload deliveries
  • Rail intermodal transport with trains and railroads
  • Airfreight with aircrafts
  • Maritime transportation by boat

Intermodal freight shipping & rail service

The difference between rail and intermodal is intermodal freight services transport goods from shipper to consignee in intermodal containers by truck and rail from seaport to inland destinations.

It’s an effective form of transportation in North America, and RailGateway has been the #1 choice for intermodal shipping across Canada since 2001.

How does intermodal shipping work?

The intermodal shipping process

With international shipping costs at record highs and numerous air transportation delays, domestic intermodal shipping has become an effective and money-saving solution.

Suppose your company’s goods are transported via truck from a seaport, then loaded onto rail cars for transport inland. The intermodal transportation process can be broken as such:

  • Products are loaded onto a truck bed (chassis), then driven to the docks.
  • The container/ containers are then transported by truck or multiple trucks to an intermodal shipping dock nearby. This kind of freight transportation is often referred to as “drayage.”
  • In order to ship or haul the containers by rail, they must first be lifted off of the chassis and onto rail cars.
  • When a container is delivered to its final destination (another intermodal ramp or cross-section), it must be put back on a truck for delivery.

Once your container is on the flat car or well car, it can travel for thousands of miles before arriving at its destination.

The intermodal ramp does not only lift cargo from truck to train. They are also responsible for loading/unloading containers and trailers and all other modes that move cargo, including air intermodal shipments.

What products can you ship using intermodal shipping?

You can ship both hazardous and non-hazardous products with domestic intermodal rail shipping.

Hazardous materials require specific containers, typically a Type 7 container, and can not be interchanged.

What can an intermodal container carry?

Intermodal containers are routinely used to carry heavy machinery and equipment, furniture, non-perishable goods like clothes or electronics, and temperature-sensitive perishable goods such as seafood and medicines.

Intermodal containers can also transport liquids and refrigerated cargo. So it’s important to ensure that you book the correct intermodal shipping container for the type of cargo you’ll be sending.

The best way to answer that question is to check the type and dimensions of the containers used by your carrier or to get in touch with its team directly.

Why is intermodal transportation necessary?

The main benefits of moving freight through intermodal shipping include reduced costs, better fuel efficiency, reduced carbon footprint emissions, increased capacity in a single shipment.

There are other reasons why intermodal transport is important in the shipping market:

– Less noise pollution as trucks no longer pass through neighbourhoods or small towns

– Ease in managing the planning processes with the elimination of traffic and customs processes on major highways

– Leaner planning process, eliminating the needed support for large volume shipments that can unexpectedly disrupt supply chain networks

– Fixed departure schedules, meaning that customers can plan their intermodal deliveries, with some rail consulting of course.

For more details, look at the 7 benefits of intermodal transport on the blog!

Intermodal transportation is a critical component in the modern supply chain. It’s important to make sure you’re opting for an economical form of shipping and one that will be environmentally friendly.

Who should use intermodal freight transportation?

Intermodal shipping is available to any shipper and can help companies save money. The first and last mile is done by truck, but most of each shipment is completed by rail, assisting corporations to save on costly last-mile logistics.

Essentially the question should be, how far are you shipping?

Intermodal service can be a good choice for shippers moving goods and cargo over 800 km (500 miles) or more. Long trips require lots of fuel, but rail can help reduce this cost and promote a carbon footprint-friendly shipping mode. If your truckload must move longer than a single day, rail might be a sensible alternative.

We recommend intermodal freight service to any company transporting goods from one province to another in Canada.

Intermodal shipping is the future of transportation. With containers being cost-effective and providing unparalleled service, it’s time to try out these new ways for a successful shipment!

Become a RailGateway partner today!

Request an intermodal rail quote to speak to one of our rail consulting experts.

You’ll gain flexibility and competitive prices for your business from handling to delivery with our intermodal services.

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