What Is Drayage Service in Trucking and How It Works

Posted On 3rd November 2023

Like many industries, freight and logistics has its own unique dictionary of terms. Most people who work in the industry are familiar with these terms since they usually use them on a daily basis.

However, one term is often poorly understood, sometimes even among experienced freight insiders. That term is drayage, meaning the transport of freight via a hub.

But that’s the technical definition of drayage in logistics. There are also other situations that involve drayage shipping. This makes for a somewhat confusing situation.

Below, we’ll explain drayage and offer examples of common drayage loads. Afterward, you should have a much better understanding of drayage freight and why it’s so important.

What Does Drayage Mean in Logistics

Drayage in Logistics

Drayage transportation is generally short-haul trips, often completed in one shift or less. These trips are generally from a port to another destination, but they can include other points of origin in some cases.

The technical drayage definition comes from the root word “dray horses”. Dray refers to horse-drawn carts used for short deliveries in years past. Today, the drayage meaning in logistics refers to semi-trucks making these short trips.

You’ll often hear drayage also referred to as “first-mile” trips, as they are often the first leg of a longer journey.

Some of these longer trips can include intermodal transportation. Intermodal shipping includes different shipping methods, such as rail, truck, and ship.

Since the drayage leg is relatively short, it would seem like it should be simple. But it is a crucial step in shipping since it comes at a critical time early on the overall chain. If there is an issue with the drayage portion of logistics, the rest of the chain often starts to fall apart.

This is why drayage is such a crucial part of logistics and getting it right helps to save money and make sure your freight arrives on time.

So when people ask “what is drayage service”, the answer is that it’s one of the more critical components of modern supply chains and freight logistics.

What Is a Drayage Truck

Drayage trucks are generally standard semi-trucks. They have a chassis or trailer designed for accepting shipping containers used for drayage freight. There are two common sizes for these trailers when transporting goods. One is for international shipping and one is the standard for domestic drayage containers.

When international containers arrive via ship, workers transfer the contents into domestic-sized containers. The containers then continue to their final destination in the shipping process. This transfer is usually done at a dedicated facility already determined by the freight company involved.

Some cases may involve using other types of bulk trailers for drayage. But the most common type is a semi-truck configured with a chassis to accept shipping containers.

What Is Drayage Freight?

Drayage freight can be anything from retail goods to bulk commodities. Some drayage freight also includes the transportation of structures used in trade shows and other events.

What Are Intermodal Drayage Services

Intermodal freight drayage involves different modes of transportation. For example, a container of goods may arrive via Los Angeles. The container is then picked up by truck and taken to a rail hub to continue its journey via train.

Another example would be a delivery made via train. When this happens, the drayage carrier picks up the container and then takes it to the retail location. Both of these cases involved different modes of transportation services. The drayage is the short trucking trip between either the rail terminal or to ship to its next destination.

The advantage of intermodal drayage is that shippers and producers save money. The downside is slightly longer travel times. But for many goods, the cost savings far outweigh the extra shipping times.

What Is A Drayage Carrier?

A drayage carrier is a company that specializes in the handling of shipping containers. These containers are moving in and out of hub facilities for either delivery or intermodal transport. There are also drayage freight brokers who specialize in drayage services.

What is Container Drayage in Trucking

Container drayage involves the shipping of a container from one port to another hub or destination. These are standard shipping containers for domestic shipping or sometimes for international shipping.

Domestic and international shipping uses two standardized containers. Domestic freight most often uses the standard 53-foot container. International shipping can use either 20-foot, 40-foot, or 45-foot containers. However, for international shipments, the 40-foot containers are the most common.

Standard container types include:

The drayage truck will pick up these containers and move them between hubs or other destinations.

Why Is Drayage Important

Why Is Drayage Important

Drayage is what connects the various transportation methods for intermodal shipments. This allows shippers to enjoy both cost savings and increased operational efficiency.

For example, shipping by rail is a very cost-effective method for shipping goods long distances. However, a train can’t pull into your parking lot to deliver your goods. Drayage connects rails with other transport and delivery options. This way, everyone involved in the supply chain can benefit from the efficiency and cost savings.

Without dependable drayage services, many aspects of the modern supply chain simply would not work. To hire freight carriers for this task, you want to make sure they provide the specialized drayage services you need.

Different Types of Drayage Services in Shipping

So far, we’ve mostly discussed drayage in broad terms related to container shipping and intermodal shipping. Specialized drayage services, however, cater to a variety of unique needs and situations.

Expedited Drayage Trucking

Expedited drayage involves time-sensitive shipments. The goal is to deliver the containers as quickly as possible after pick up. Some drayage companies offer this specialized freight shipping service.

Inter Carrier Drayage

This is when different carriers handle containers as they travel to their destination. For example, a container could move from a trucking terminal to a rail yard, where the containers continue on a train. In inter-carrier drayage, the trucking company and the train are separate entities.

Inter-carrier drayage is what most people are referring to when they speak about drayage in general.

Intra Carrier Drayage

This is similar to inter-carrier drayage. The main difference is that the same carrier handles the different transportation modes.


As the name implies, this is when a container gets delivered directly to a retail customer at the customer’s location.

Shuttle Drayage

You can think of shuttle drayage almost like a holdover when traveling. The drayage company will take the containers to a separate facility for short-term storage for a short time. This can be due to delays in other aspects of shipping or if a shipping facility is currently too busy to accept the containers.

Pier Drayage

Pier drayage involves the movement of a container from a trucking hub to an ocean port for transportation via a ship. In these cases, the drayage drivers take the containers the short distances from the pickup location to the pier.

What Are the Benefits of Drayage Shipping Services

Drayage shipping services provide benefits for everyone involved in the supply chain.

Lower Costs

The main benefit of drayage shipping services is cost-savings. Utilizing additional shipping options becomes possible with drayage shipping services. This allows businesses and freight carriers to find the lowest-cost shipping options for each situation.

Increased Efficiency

Despite being lower cost, drayage increases supply chain efficiency. Containers and goods spend far less time sitting and not moving. This means lower costs. Containers are often loaded or unloaded very soon after arriving at a hub.

This type of efficiency allows businesses to run a more efficient supply chain.

Accuracy and Security

Drayage services provide increased tracking and logistics support. This helps everyone involved in the supply chain monitor shipments in real-time. It also helps to prevent loss or theft since containers spend much less time sitting in one location.

A moving container that is being tracked is more secure than a container sitting at a facility or transportation hub.

More Help With Drayage Services

Handling drayage freight requires experience and expertise. These critical loads need to be managed properly to ensure everything runs smoothly and securely.

At Freight Run, we specialize in drayage services and can help you find the best providers to fit your freight and your needs.

Contact Freight Run today for a free freight quote and to learn more about our industry-leading drayage services.