Intermodal vs Truckload: Hiring the Right Delivery Method

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 them through intermodal containerization.

While OTR’s (over-the-road trucking carriers) transport full truckload shipments from origin to destination or warehouses to intermodal trains or depots.

Deciding which delivery method is suitable for your shipment can be difficult, but this blog post will help you make an informed decision.

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 (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 with/ in proper storage containers on short or demanding transit times.
  • Inconvenient intermodal ramp locations

When to choose intermodal?

  • You have a predictable intermodal shipment schedule that is frequent and where freight spend is the most important logistics factor.
  • Larger intermodal freight shipments with longer transit times or irregular/ unpredictable shipments that do not require urgent delivery.
  • Delivery distance is more than 800-1100 km or 500-700 miles.
  • A desire to offset carbon footprint or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Which option is best for your business? Here are three key factors to consider:

– Distance: How far will the freight travel?

– Size and weight: How large is the item being shipped, and what is the total weight?

– Convenience: What’s the delivery window?

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.

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


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.