The Benefits of Intermodal Transportation: Saving Time and Money

Posted On 11th April 2023

The transportation industry is constantly evolving, with new technologies and methods of shipping goods emerging every day. Intermodal transportation is a method that is gaining popularity among businesses of all sizes because of the cost savings it can sometimes produce for manufacturers, distributors, and end-users.  Intermodal transportation involves using multiple modes of transportation, such as trains, trucks, and ships, to move goods from one point to another. In this blog post, we'll explore the benefits of intermodal transportation while also considering its shortcomings as well.

First, intermodal transport is any method of transportation utilizing more than one mode of transport (air, rail, truck, ship) while not re-loading or handling the freight. 

Its most common referral today is the intermodal shipping of containers which are 20’ or 40’ containers and typically loaded at a manufacturers, sealed with a hard-to-break and unique and numbered seal, and then trucked and dropped off at a local rail “head,” from where they are loaded onto a train, the train then transports the loaded and sealed container to a port (if this is an export container), where they are then loaded onto a ship, from the ship to a foreign port, then trucked again to the final destination. There are domestic intermodal truck/rail movements as well where say a 40’ container of a palletized load of a bakery ingredient is loaded at its manufacturer in upstate NY, trucked to a Newark NJ railhead, then shipped via rail to for instance a Florida railhead, where it is re-dropped onto a container chassis and a trucking “power unit” drives it to the distribution warehouse where it is unloaded.

The same type of movement detailed above can be done in 20’, 40’, and 53’ containers or even special Airline containers for international or domestic flights

Cost Savings

One of the primary benefits of intermodal transportation is cost savings. For example, shipping goods by train is often cheaper than shipping by truck, as trains can carry larger volumes of goods over longer distances. Similarly, shipping goods by ship is usually more cost-effective than air shipping but at times is less than over-the-road trucking.

Broadly speaking about “truck-rail intermodal” the longer the distance involved, and the closer the shipper and receiver are to the rail loading and unloading facilities, the more cost savings over the price of point-to-point direct trucking.

Improved Safety and Security

Intermodal transportation can also improve the safety and security of goods in transit. By using multiple modes of transportation, the risk of theft, damage, or loss of goods is reduced. For example, shipping goods by train is often considered safer than shipping by truck, as trains are less likely to be involved in accidents or targeted by thieves.

In addition to reducing the risk of theft or damage, intermodal transportation can also help businesses comply with regulations related to the transportation of hazardous materials. By using the most appropriate modes of transportation for each type of shipment, businesses can ensure that their goods are transported safely and legally.

Environmental Benefits

Intermodal transportation can also have environmental benefits. By using trains, ships, and other modes of transportation that are more fuel-efficient than trucks and overall reduce highway miles traveled, businesses can reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to a cleaner environment.

In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, intermodal transportation can also reduce traffic congestion on highways, reducing the risk of accidents and improving the flow of traffic.  Note that while this is broadly true, intermodal truck/rail does increase the congestion at key points such as ports and around ports.


Usually, Truck/Rail intermodal transport is a longer transit time than a direct truck between a US manufacturer and the destination.  This is due to the round trip at the origin and destination that the drayage trucker must perform, the time it takes the railroad to unload/load the trail/truck at each point, and the time it takes for the container to be attached to the particular train it needs to catch to make the “line haul.”  On a transcontinental crossing in the USA, the time benefit of a direct truck is presently at least 4 days if not 7 but this varies with the exact origin and destination and the appointment requirements on the delivery can also add time.

In conclusion, intermodal transportation on the whole offers a wide range of benefits for businesses of all sizes. By leveraging the advantages of multiple modes of transportation, businesses can save on shipping costs, improve the safety and security of goods in transit, and contribute to a cleaner environment. If you're looking for a cost-effective and efficient way to transport your goods, intermodal transportation is definitely worth considering.