Latest Introduction To Reefer Intermodal In 2024!

Perishable foods against yellow background reefer intermodal shipping concept
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Amylee Silva

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The world of trucking encompasses a vast array of cargo, but beyond the ubiquitous dry van and standardized intermodal container lies a specialized realm – the realm of reefer intermodal. These refrigerated containers are the unsung heroes of our daily lives, ensuring the safe passage of temperature-sensitive goods that grace our supermarket shelves. 

From the crisp, vibrant fruits and vegetables to the perfectly chilled dairy products and frozen delights, every refrigerated and frozen item you encounter has undertaken a temperature-controlled journey to reach your table. This is the vital role played by reefer loads, maintaining freshness and quality throughout their transportation odyssey.

What is a Reefer?

Think of a reefer container as a giant cooler on wheels! It’s a special shipping container that keeps things nice and cold inside, like a refrigerator. Reefers (sometimes called RF containers) can keep things frozen, chilled, or just cool, usually between -30°C and +30°C. This makes them perfect for transporting perishable items like frozen food, ice cream, and other items that need to stay cold.

How Does a Reefer Work?

Reefer containers operate on a closed-loop system, actively managing temperature to ensure the safe transport of perishable goods. This system continuously collects heat from the container’s interior, pumps it outwards, and dissipates it. This intricate process allows the reefer to maintain a constant, desired temperature for extended periods. Imagine transporting ice cream – the reefer unit will tirelessly work to maintain a frigid -40°F environment until the ice cream reaches its destination. This technology, known as cold chain logistics, forms the backbone of safe and reliable transportation for temperature-sensitive products.

Reefer units achieve cooling primarily through two methods:

  • Cryogenic Cooling 

This method utilizes the natural cooling effect of carbon dioxide as it transitions from a solid to a gas state. Essentially, frozen carbon dioxide “ice” melts within the system, absorbing heat from the container’s interior.

  • Diesel-Powered Generators 

These generators provide the power needed to operate the reefer unit’s cooling system, ensuring chilled conditions for the cargo throughout its journey.

Reefer Components

Unlike your standard trailer, a reefer is a high-tech cooler on wheels, packed with extra parts to keep things nice and cold inside. Here’s a breakdown of what makes a reefer work:

  • The Mighty Reefer Unit 

This is the heart of the whole operation. It’s like a mini air conditioner that keeps the inside cool.

  • Air Chute

Imagine a giant funnel! This helps direct cool air throughout the container.

  • Insulated Box 

This acts like the thick walls of your cooler, keeping the cold air in and the hot air out.

  • Heavy Duty Tires 

Just like any big rig, reefers need strong tires to handle the weight and different road conditions.

  • Smooth Ride Suspension 

This fancy system helps keep the ride smooth, protecting the cargo and the reefer unit itself.

  • Dedicated fuel Tank 

Reefers have their own dedicated fuel tank, separate from the truck’s fuel. This special tank can hold up to 50 gallons, and the best part? How the truck is driven doesn’t affect how much fuel the reefer uses.

Now, let’s get into the science behind keeping things cold! Reefers use a closed system with these key players:

  • The Compressor

This acts like a tiny pump, sucking in warm air and squeezing it tight, turning it into hot liquid.

  • The Condenser 

This is like a radiator. It takes the hot liquid from the compressor and cools it down using outside air, releasing the heat.

  • The Evaporator 

This is the real chiller! It takes the cooled liquid and turns it back into gas. In this process, it absorbs heat from the air inside the container, making it nice and cold. The cool air then blows throughout the trailer, and the cycle starts all over again!

By working together, these parts ensure your favorite frozen treats, fresh fruits, and other temperature-sensitive goodies arrive perfectly chilled at their destination.

Why Use Reefer’s?

Unlike other standard shipping containers, reefer containers ensure a wide variety of temperature-sensitive goods arrive at their destination fresh, delicious, and ready to use. 

Here’s a glimpse of what you might find traveling inside a reefer:

  • Perishable delights

This includes all your favorites – fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and delicious meats.

  • Beverages you love

From refreshing sodas to your morning coffee, some beverages also require a cool journey.

  • Life-saving medications 

Certain pharmaceuticals need precise temperature control to maintain their effectiveness.

  • Baked goods on the move 

Frozen pastries and other treats often travel in reefers to stay fresh for longer.

Using reefer containers is crucial for several reasons:

  • Protecting from Freeze 

Some products are sensitive to freezing temperatures and need a cool, but not freezing, environment.

  • Maintaining Stability 

For items that require consistent temperature control, reefers ensure they stay perfectly chilled throughout their journey.

  • Keeping You Informed

Modern reefers are equipped with state-of-the-art technology:

  • Control Units 

These allow for remote monitoring and adjustment of the temperature inside the trailer.

  • Temperature Sensors 

These provide real-time data on the temperature conditions within the container.

  • GPS Tracking 

You can track your shipment’s location and ensure it arrives on time and at the optimal temperature.

By utilizing reefers and their advanced features, businesses can guarantee their temperature-sensitive goods reach their destination in pristine condition, preventing spoilage and safeguarding valuable revenue.

Types of Reefer Containers

When it comes to single-temperature reefer trailers, a variety of options cater to specific needs. Here’s a breakdown of some popular models:

  • Precedent S-750i: This diesel-electric unit is ideal for retailers, fleets, and pharmaceutical transport. Its focus on efficiency makes it a budget-friendly choice.
  • Precedent S-600: An eco-friendly option, this CARB-certified unit eliminates the need for a DPF filter and boasts impressive fuel savings.
  • Precedent S-700: Need to maintain deep freeze temperatures? This powerful unit is perfect for frozen goods. It’s also CARB-certified and customizable to your business requirements.
  • Precedent C-600: This cost-effective single-temperature unit is backed by a reliable dealer network for easy maintenance and support.
  • SLXi Local Trailer: Designed for urban deliveries, this lightweight reefer offers quieter operation, making it ideal for city environments.

Remember, the best reefer unit for your needs depends on your specific cargo, budget, and operational requirements. Consult with a reefer expert to determine the perfect fit for your business.

Drivers Guide for Handling Intermodal Reefer’s

There are two key parts of operating Reefer Intermodal freights, they are –

Picking Up Intermodal Reefer 

When a driver is tasked with a “live intermodal reefer pickup”. That is mainly collecting a reefer container from the rail yard. Some of the steps crucial for this smooth operation are:

  • Fuel Up

The driver should ensure the reefer unit’s fuel tank is filled, guaranteeing uninterrupted operation during transport.

  • Temperature Verification

The container’s temperature setting must be meticulously checked and adjusted to precisely match the specific needs of the cargo.

  • Alarm System Check

Prior to departure, a thorough inspection of the reefer’s alarm system is vital to identify any potential issues before they escalate.

Delivery of Intermodal Reefer

For deliveries involving a loaded reefer container originating from the rail yard, the driver’s focus shifts to ensuring the cargo reaches its destination in optimal condition.

  • Fuel Gauge Monitoring 

Due to the uncertainty of remaining fuel in the generator (genset), the driver must meticulously check the fuel gauge upon receiving the container.

  • Fueling for Delivery 

If the fuel level is insufficient, it’s imperative to refuel the genset before proceeding. This ensures the temperature remains consistent throughout the delivery process.

  • Fuel Reimbursement 

Carriers can claim reimbursement for fuel costs by including them as an “accessorial charge” associated with the trip.


With growing challenges on the road like traffic jams and rising fuel costs. Intermodal rail is increasingly rising as a compelling option for transporting temperature-controlled cargo using refrigerated containers.

Intermodal rail offers exceptional reach, connecting thousands of origin and destination points across the country. This presents a golden opportunity for savvy shippers to leverage the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of rail while ensuring their temperature-sensitive goods reach their final destination fresh and on time.

So, consider taking the “chill” route with reefer intermodal, it’s the future of cool transportation!


What Is A Reefer In Transportation?

A reefer trailer is a refrigerated trailer used in trucking to transport perishable goods at controlled temperatures. Developed around 1925 for the ice cream industry, these trailers revolutionized temperature-sensitive product transportation.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Reefer?

Reefer transport is trickier to manage. As, the cargo’s sensitivity to temperature fluctuations necessitates specialized equipment to maintain precise conditions. Due to the higher value of refrigerated goods compared to dry freight, cargo rates for reefer transport typically reflect this increased value.

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