Intermodal vs Truckload Shipments: Choosing the Right Delivery For Your Cargo

Intermodal Containers and Trucks at a shipping yard
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Amylee Silva

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This post was last updated on May 17th, 2022

Whether you need to ship loose materials across the county or send a couple of pallets from Montreal to Edmonton’s intermodal terminal, rail, and truckload shipping are the two primary methods for moving goods.

But it’s important not to use one method or the other as a “one size fits all” solution. These modes of transport have their own benefits and drawbacks.

We know deciding which delivery method is suitable for your shipment can be difficult, so we hope this blog post will help you make an informed decision.

What are intermodal shipping and truckload shipping?

The most important thing for you to know about intermodal vs truckload shipping carriers is that they are not made equal.

Intermodal freight carriers move goods from one mode of transportation to another without ever unloading the merchandise, thanks to intermodal containerization.

While OTR’s (over-the-road trucking carriers) provide truckload shipments, meaning the merchandise will be moved in a loaded trailer, from origin to destination, or from warehouses to intermodal trains or depots.

What are the key differences between truckload shipping and intermodal shipping?

You’ve probably heard this before, rail is cheaper than truck transport, but when does over-the-road trucking make more sense in a supply chain strategy?

Truckload shipping is ideal for time-sensitive shipments, high-value freight that will travel a short distance. Because truckload carriers’ schedules are more flexible, they can collect and deliver freight at more convenient times.

Intermodal transportation requires more planning and is ideal for high-volume shipments that aren’t time-sensitive and can travel a long distance without damage.

Because intermodal containers are the same size and can be lifted by a crane, it’s easy to transfer freight from one truck or train to another without unloading and reloading the cargo.

When to choose truckload?

  • More than 80 km (or 50 miles) from an intermodal ramp but less than 800 km or 500 miles to the final destination.
  • Urgent, last-minute, time-sensitive shipments where speed is the most important logistics factor.
  • Perishable goods or freight within proper storage containers on short or demanding transit times.
  • Inconvenient intermodal ramp locations

When to choose intermodal?

  • If you have a predictable intermodal shipment schedule that is frequent and where freight spend is the most important logistics factor.
  • For larger intermodal freight shipments with longer transit times or irregular/ unpredictable shipments that do not require urgent delivery.
  • Delivery distance is more than 800 km or 500 miles.
  • A desire to offset carbon footprint or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What are the main criteria to make an informed decision?

When comparing intermodal vs truckload shipping, companies should take into account 3 key factors:

– Distance: How far will the freight travel? What’s the distance from the origin to the final destination?

– Size and weight: What is the size of the shipment? How large is the item being shipped? What is the total weight?

– Convenience and time lime: What’s the best route? What’s the delivery window? How urgently do the goods need to be delivered?

Which option is best for your business?

For moving freight in a non-time-sensitive way and for a long distance, most intermodal providers will offer you lower transportation costs. Intermodal shipments also have better fuel efficiency, a lighter carbon footprint, and a safer shipping service than truckload shipping.

However, choose truckload if prices are non of your concern but you intend to ship on short distances and if you are worried about the deadline of your delivery. Indeed, truckload transit time is usually faster than with intermodal transportation, and it is much easier to find a truck when you need one.

Moving from Truckload to Intermodal Rail

Is intermodal cheaper than truckload?

In many cases, intermodal transportation is cheaper and more fuel-efficient than other logistic modes. But it’s not always the right fit or solution.

Contact one of our logistics experts to discuss your specific needs and see if intermodal is the right choice for you.

What is intermodal shipping?

Intermodal shipping is the movement or transportation of goods using more than one mode of transport (rail, truck, ship, air).

Curious if intermodal is right for your business? Read our post about when and why you should make the switch.

What is the difference between drayage and intermodal?

Both terms refer to the movement of goods. Drayage, the movement of cargo over a short distance. And intermodal, the complete shipment journey over a longer distance.

Please read our guide on intermodal terms and phrases everyone getting started with intermodal should know.

What is meant by truckload?

Truckload freight is cargo that fills a truck or part of a truck. The term usually applies to shipments too large to move by rail.

What does FTL or LTL mean in shipping terms?

FTL stands for full truckload, while LTL, less than a full truckload. This term references the cargo, goods, products, or raw materials.

With a full truckload, the goods of a client fill the entire truck or intermodal container. On the contrary, with less than full truckload shipments, only part of a truck is loaded by a client. This means that in order for the truck to be more cost and fuel-efficient, the service provider has to contract and fill his truck with loads from other businesses too.

Read our guide on picking the right shipping terms for your needs.

The benefits of intermodal offer great reasons to be switching up your game to conquer further away locations. But moving from truckload to intermodal rail can be an expensive and time-consuming process.

Luckily, there are many affordable options for shipping that may work better.

If you’re considering moving your company over to a more environmentally friendly method of transporting goods by opting for the cheaper option of switching over to intermodal transportation, contact one of our logistics experts today!

We’ll help you find the best solution based on your needs and budget.

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