Modes of Transportation: How to Choose the Best Options for Your Supply Chain

When it comes to choosing the best mode of transportation for your supply chain, there are a lot of factors to consider. As with anything in life and business, each option has pros and cons you must weigh before deciding. The mode of transportation you select determines the transit time, cost incurred, and environmental impact. Additionally, it determines the risk exposure and customer satisfaction. Therefore, you will need to pick the transportation mode that fits each of these considerations.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the most common modes of transportation used in logistics and outline the benefits and drawbacks of each one.

By the end, you should have a better understanding of which option is best for your business. Scroll down to read more.

The 7 Modes of Transportation

There are 7 transportation modes you can use for supply chain transport. These are:

  1. Air transportation or air transport

  2. Rail transportation (passenger and freight)

  3. Ship transport (also known as maritime shipping or maritime transportation)

  4. Road transport or truckload

  5. Water transport (barges and canals)

  6. Intermodal transportation(a combination of road transportation and freight trains)

  7. Multimodal transport (a combination of multiple modes of transportation methods)

What Are the Different Modes of Transport in Logistics?

There are four main modes of transport in logistics: truck, ship, train, and air. The best option for a particular shipment will depend on several factors.

Trucks are the most versatile mode of transport, as they can be used for shipments of all sizes and types. Additionally, they come with different modes like truckload and less-than-truckload. However, trucking is also an expensive option. It can also be subject to traffic or inclement weather delays.

Ships are best suited for oversized shipments and international trade that need to be transported over long distances. Maritime transport is relatively slow but cost-effective.

Trains are an efficient and environmentally friendly option for shipping freight that needs to be transported over long distances, typically 1000+ km or 750 miles. Rail transport is also fast and reliable, but it can be expensive, and routes are limited. In addition, train schedules can be inflexible, making it challenging to coordinate shipments.

Industries shipping large volumes or requiring the movement of heavy goods preferably use railway and road transportation (also known as intermodal transportation) and shipping by sea over other modes. This method can accommodate larger materials, thus becoming an ideal alternative to air travel, which is better suited for parcel shipping and small packages.

Air freight is the fastest of the transport modes but also the most expensive. It’s best suited for time-sensitive shipments that need to be delivered to remote locations where trains and transport cars cannot service.

Now that we’ve gone over the different modes of transportation let’s take a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of each one.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Truck Transportation

Truck transportation is the most popular mode of transport in North America, as it offers several advantages, including:

  • Trucks can transport shipments of all sizes and types.

  • Trucking is a door-to-door service, which means your shipment will be delivered directly to the recipient’s location.

  • Trucking is relatively fast and provides a high degree of flexibility when it comes to delivery times.

  • Trucks can transport shipments to and from remote locations that are not serviced by other modes of transport.

  • Packing, shipping, and offloading a truckload is easier than other transport modes.

  • There are fewer transport restrictions.

  • It is easier to track your cargo through GPS when using road transport.

  • It is highly accessible as every country has road transport modes compared to sea or rail transport.

However, trucking also has a few drawbacks, including:

  • With gas and petrol prices at an all-time high, trucking is an expensive mode of transport.

  • Trucking can be subject to travel restrictions and delays due to traffic or weather conditions.

  • It is not ideal for trans-global transportation of the supply chain.

  • There are size and weight limits on some roads.

  • There is a higher risk of accidents and mechanical problems compared to other modes of transportation.

  • Trucking is at the highest risk of invasion by criminals compared to rail, sea, or air transport.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Rail Transportation

Rail transportation is a fast and efficient way to move freight, and it offers a number of advantages, including:

  • Rail transport is faster and more cost-effective than trucking, making it ideal for long-distance shipments.

  • It is more energy-efficient, which makes it better for the environment.

  • Rail transport is more reliable and predictable than trucking, as trains run on set schedules.

  • Trains have a higher carrying capacity and are ideal for bulk cargo and large quantities of raw materials. There are huge containers that enable the carrying of oversized cargo.

  • This mode of transport has a low impact on the environment.

  • It supports intermodal transportation. However, you will need to have a reliable intermodal carrier.

Of course, this mode also has a few drawbacks, including:

  • Rail transport can be more expensive than trucking.

  • The routes for rail transport are limited, which can make it challenging to coordinate shipments.

  • Train schedules can be inflexible.

  • They are not ideal for door-to-door delivery services.

  • Cargo transported using a train requires additional transportation modes to reach its destination. This means you will need to have an intermodal contract.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Maritime Transportation

Maritime transportation is a slow but cost-effective way to move freight, and it offers a number of advantages, including:

  • Maritime transport is the most economical option for shipping large volumes of freight.

  • Maritime transport is less likely to be affected by weather conditions than other modes of transport.

  • It is the best transportation mode for oversized and bulk cargo. There are large container ships for these purposes,

  • It offers the highest transport capacity.

  • There is little handling required in a ship.

Drawbacks of maritime shipping include:

  • Maritime transport is relatively slow, which can make it unsuitable for time-sensitive shipments.

  • Cargo ships are subject to travel restrictions.

  • The routes for maritime transport are limited, which can make it difficult to coordinate frequent shipments.

  • Ships are not always financially economical.

  • Marine transport can be inaccessible in some regions.

  • It is not ideal for fast or urgent transportation.

  • It requires another transportation mode to reach its destination; thus, you will need to run an intermodal terminal.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Air Transportation

Transport by air is the fastest way to move freight internationally, and it offers a number of advantages, including:

  • Air transport is the fastest option for freight transportation.

  • Air cargo is less likely to be affected by weather conditions than other transportation modes.

  • Air shipping is ideal for time-sensitive shipments.

  • Air transport is the most secure and least likely to be affected by criminals.

  • It operates on a time-sensitive and fixed schedule, thus limiting the chances of delay.

Air transport mode drawbacks:

How To Choose the Best Type of Logistics Transportation for Your Company?

There are a few factors you should take into account when deciding what type of transportation is best for your company, including:

  • The type of goods you need to ship

  • Your shipping budget

  • The time frame for delivery

  • The distance of the shipment

  • Whether or not you need door-to-door service

  • The frequency of shipments

  • Environmental concerns

Get the Best Transport Mode for Your Cargo

Weighing all these factors will help you decide which mode or combination of modes of transportation best suits your company’s needs.

In our next update, we’ll investigate how and when to use which transportation mode.

Ready to get started with intermodal transport? At RailGateway, we make finding the correct mode and intermodal carrier for your freight simple, and our competitive pricing guarantees you the best rate for your shipment. Contact us and get started today with a free quote.