Transloading Vs. Intermodal Shipping: What is the Difference?

transloading: business man standing in empty container that has been transloaded
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Amylee Silva

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This post was last updated on October 2nd, 2023

Shipping has changed quite a bit in the last few years. It’s no longer just about moving products from one place to another; transport has evolved into an entirely new realm of complexity.

In this post, we will discuss the handling of the merchandise when it comes to a shipment requiring the use of different modes of transportation.

We will then explore the differences between transloading and intermodal shipping, helping you make an informed decision on how to transport your goods!

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What is transloading?

Transloading is the action of transferring goods from one mode of transportation to another by unloading the cargo and reloading it into a different container, rail car, or truck.

Major rail carriers such as CP and CN in Canada offer many dedicated locations allowing these operations.

What about transloading facilities?

A transload facility specifically handles the transloading process to load and unload cargo out and onto containers, trucks, or rail cars. They are often located near docks, rail yards, or airports.

For a look at CP’s transloading facilities and locations, visit their site here.

CN Rail also has over 31 strategically located distribution centersClick here to see their interactive map for more details.

What is transloading equipment?

There are particular transloading types of equipment used at transloading facilities that allow the handle of the process quickly, efficiently, and with low human labor involved.

The merchandise is usually palletized and then handled thanks to machines including forklifts, cranes, rail car dumpers, or conveyors, for example.

What type of merchandise can be transloaded?

Transloading can be used for different types of cargo. From bulk goods to nonperishable food or from construction, raw materials to non-regular sized items, many companies can use this method.

Whatever the industry your company is in, the best way to know if you can ship your items is to ask your freight forwarder.

What does the transloading fee cover?

Be aware that a transload fee might be applied to your final shipping invoice if you have to deliver your merchandise to multiple locations.

What does that stand for? This fee will cover the cost of de-consolidating the shipment at a warehouse and reloading them into different trucks sent to various destinations.

What is a typical transloading process?

A typical example of that logistics would be:

Step 1 – Start of the journey

A loaded freight ship, truck, or train arrives at a transloading facility with a specific container full of goods.

Step 2 – Transload of the Merchandise

Thanks to the transloading equipment and the support of handling, the cargo of this container is then unloaded into a storage warehouse and then reloaded into a different transportation mode (which can be a container on a rail car, ship, or truck) or directly transferred.

This would usually be the long-haul step of the shipment. Note that if you are shipping domestically, rail service would be the most economical, reliable, and sustainable option.

If the cargo can be transferred directly to the final destination truck or container, the delivery will be much faster and avoid supply chain delays.

Remember, if the shippers can keep the supply chains moving, the better, cheaper, and safer it is for you as a customer.

Step 3 – The optimal path to reach the final destination

If needed, your goods might have to go through another transloading facility.

The most common path is that the operators have to be moving goods onto trucks for final delivery in order to reach specific and more isolated locations.

Step 4 – The final delivery

The transloading process is complete once the goods reach their destination for the final delivery: customers or distribution center, ready for the market!

Is transloading the same as cross-docking?

Although transloading and cross-docking are similar, transloading services tend to be longer, more customized, and often imply a longer process with more steps.

Whereas a transload facility offers a larger range of services, cross-dock services mainly handle shipments to be directly moved to another truck for final delivery or very short storage.

Merchandise turnover is way quicker and often remains under 24H. Truck drivers have to be ready for their truck to be loaded and to start their journey right away. Great and fast communication is necessary.

Intermodal or Transloading services for your freight shipment?

Now that we’ve defined transloading let’s talk about intermodal shipping and its differences.

What is intermodal shipping?

Intermodal transport refers to the shipment of goods using more than one mode of transportation during the shipping process.

This could mean transporting a product by truck to a train station and then loading it onto a rail car for transport until its final destination.

But one of the main features of this shipping solution is that the load will remain in the same container all the way.

What is the difference between intermodal freight shipping and transloading?

The difference between them lies in how product movement happens at transload facilities:

In transloading, the product is unloaded from one transportation mode and reloaded into another one using a different container.

With intermodal shipping, the cargo will remain in the same intermodal container for the entire trip until it reaches its final destination. It’s the containers themselves that will be moved from one mode of transportation to another.

When to use intermodal or transloading?

Now that you know the difference, it is easier to see when each service would be best for your company’s needs.

If you have a shipment that includes different destinations, transloading might be a better option so that the cargo can be handled more efficiently and overall have more flexibility.

However, a significant disadvantage of transloading is that the container must be opened and the cargo handled and moved. This means the risks of damages, thefts, and delays are also higher.

Intermodal freight shipping can handle almost any type of cargo and is a great solution when you can ship a full container for yourself from one point to another while also being environmentally friendly with fewer emissions into our atmosphere.

Since the cargo will be in the same container, it is also easier to track and manage. Intermodal is the better option if you’re looking for a fast, cheap, and easy shipment solution and your cargo fits into a single container.

At the end of the day, each case is different, and the best way to handle your shipments will also depend on your type of products, weight, sizes, routes, ports, and much more.

To define the best solution for you, we invite you to contact us. We will be happy to answer your questions and provide you with a quote for your intermodal shipment across Canada and cross border into the US!

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