Transloading Vs. Intermodal Shipping: What is the Difference?

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.

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

This post will then explore transloading vs. intermodal shipping, helping you make an informed decision on how to transport your goods!

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.

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

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

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 and is often located near docks, rail yards, or airports.

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 labour involved. These machines include forklifts, cranes, rail car dumpers or conveyors.

What is a typical transloading process?

A typical example of transloading logistics would be:

Step 1: A loaded freight ship or train arrives at a transload facility with a specific container full of goods.

Step 2: The cargo of this container is then directly transferred or unloaded into a storage warehouse and then reloaded into a different transportation mode (which can be a container, a rail car, or a truck) thanks to the transloading equipment and the support of handling.

Step 3: Usually, that second or last transportation mode would be a truck for final delivery.

Step 4: The transloading process is complete once the goods reach their final destination: customers or distribution center, ready for the market!

Note: For step 2, 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.

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 and raw materials to non-regular sized items, many companies can use this method.

The best way to know if you can ship your items, including transloading services, 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.

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 final destinations.

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 by using or not using the original container.

With intermodal freight shipping, the cargo will remain in the same intermodal container 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 for 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.

If you’re looking for a fast, cheap, and easy shipment solution and your cargo fits into a single container, then intermodal is the better option.


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!