Intermodal Transportation Services for Your Freight

The ability to move freight efficiently and predictably can provide cost savings and allows retail businesses, manufacturers, and others to get their products to market faster.

However, when freight shipping is inefficient, there are significant downsides that ripple throughout a business’s supply chain. Late arrival of raw materials means production needs to be halted. In retail, late arrivals mean shelves are left empty or unstocked, which means lost sales and revenue.

This is why businesses should always be looking for cost-effective ways to improve their freight shipping and overall supply chain health.

One method businesses have found that improves their supply chain is using intermodal transportation. This hybrid model of shipping offers many benefits and efficiencies that can improve virtually any business immediately.

Below we’ll explain what intermodal transportation is and how it can benefit your business and supply chain.

Intermodal Transportation Services

What is Intermodal Transportation?

Intermodal transportation is a type of shipping where the freight is moved by two or more separate modes of transportation, hence the name intermodal.

There are two main types of intermodal transportation, domestic and international intermodal transportation.

The most common example of domestic intermodal trucking is when freight is carried by intermodal trucks to a railway or intermodal ramp, generally a short distance from the pickup location.

From there, the 53-foot standardized intermodal shipping container is moved from the truck trailer (chassis) to a rail car or container train where it will stay for the majority of its journey, mostly on class I railroads for regular intermodal shipment.

When it arrives at the intermodal ramp closest to its destination, another truck picks up the container and carries it to its final destination. This final portion of transportation done by truck is often referred to as drayage. The intermodal truck driver generally only drives a short distance of under 250 miles.

Domestic intermodal transportation generally involves trucks and trains as the main transportation method between origin and destination.

International intermodal container transportation is similar, but the containers can also travel by ship or other means not commonly used domestically. International intermodal transportation also uses different containers, which are 20-foot or 40-foot varieties.

When international intermodal containers reach North America, the contents are transferred to domestic-sized containers if they need to continue to their destination via truck or intermodal trains within the United States.

Benefits of Intermodal Transportation

While using different modes of transportation like freight by rail to ship the same product might seem like it introduces inefficiencies and extra costs, the opposite is actually true. Below are some of the critical advantages of intermodal transportation and the freight rail network.

Lower Costs

This is the main benefit most businesses enjoy when using intermodal transportation. This is especially true for consistent routes that a business uses over and over again to move the same freight. Using rail transport for a majority of these routes can create huge cost savings and increase efficiency when measuring ton-miles.

For example, the heavily trafficked route from Los Angeles to Chicago offers many intermodal options. Looking at 100 full truckloads along this route, a business could save over $100,000 by switching to intermodal instead of relying solely on trucks for the entire distance.

Predictable And On-Time

Intermodal options do usually add one to two days to the overall shipping time. But this can be easily accommodated by most businesses. More importantly, the predictability of their freight deliveries increases compared to trucks. Delays and other issues are less common with rail freight. The trucks involved generally only carry the freight for a short distance. This means freight gets to the destination when scheduled and on time.

Eco-Friendly

Many companies are looking for ways to increase their eco-friendly initiatives. Using an intermodal trucking company is one of the easiest ways for companies to achieve that goal.

Intermodal is more fuel efficient and helps remove additional trucks from the highways, reducing emissions. For businesses looking to improve their ecological profile, intermodal shipping not only achieves that goal but also saves money in the process and requires very little additional investment, if any.

Intermodal Freight Transportation - Who Can Benefit From It?

Almost any business that relies on timely freight deliveries can benefit from intermodal freight transport and rail trucking. There are few restrictions on what can be shipped via a container and a business's proximity to an intermodal rail ramp is generally not a major issue for most locations.

Those businesses that will benefit most should consider the distance their freight travels. The longer the distance, the more benefits a business will reap. For example, Los Angeles to Chicago is a prime route and one where intermodal offers substantial cost savings.

Proximity to an intermodal ramp should also be considered. Generally, anything under 250 miles distance from the pickup location to an intermodal ramp can make intermodal an attractive alternative.

For distances over 250 miles between the pickup and the intermodal ramp, it may not offer cost benefits. So those instances would have to be researched individually to see if it would be worthwhile.

What Products Can You Ship Using Intermodal Shipping?

There are very few restrictions on what can be shipped via intermodal transportation. Essentially, anything that can safely travel via an intermodal container can be shipped.

Things like live animals are not allowed. However, there are reefer containers available so products requiring temperature-controlled conditions can be shipped via intermodal with the right carrier and equipment.

A standard container or a reefer container can both be equipped with satellite GPS devices and telematics, which are becoming standard in the logistics industry. This gives businesses full insight into their freight at any moment. Telematics can even inform businesses when a freight container arrives or when its doors are opened for unloading.

The Best Intermodal Trucking Companies in the US

The carriers below are not strictly intermodal, they only move shipments by rail for the cross-country hauls. Some of the other carriers move by rail occasionally, if they are backed up with freight at their terminals.

Just to be clear that we are not promoting any LTL common carriers as intermodal carriers 100%. So basically we can see these carriers provide intermodal services:

  • ABF Freight,
  • Central Transport,
  • Estes Express,
  • FedEx Freight,
  • Forward Air,
  • Frontline Freight,
  • ODFL Freight,
  • R & L,
  • Roadrunner Transportation,
  • TForce Freight,
  • XPO Freight,
  • YRC Freight.

Choosing the Best Intermodal Carriers for Your Freight

If you’re ready to implement intermodal shipping for your business, there are some tips for choosing the best intermodal transportation companies for your specific intermodal loads.

Experience With Your Route

You want an intermodal company that has extensive experience with your particular routes. This means they have built long-lasting relationships with rail providers that cover the routes you will be using most.

Their Own Chassis Inventory

The chassis is what the intermodal containers are loaded onto for the truck portion of its route. For maximum reliability, you want to choose intermodal companies that have their own inventory of chassis and don't share from a pool or need to rent based on demand.

Tracking and Security

In today’s digital world, you want access to freight data 24/7. Ensure your carrier offers GPS options on their containers that you can view on your own, either via an app or software application.

Some intermodal carriers even have APIs so you can integrate this data directly into your inventory management software.

Additional Information About Intermodal Shipping

When you’re ready to start utilizing intermodal logistics for your business, contact our experts at Freight Run.

We specialize in finding the lowest rates for LTL trucking, FTL, and intermodal services with the most reliable service possible.

Contact Freight Run today to learn more about how our intermodal transportation services can help your business cut costs and improve efficiency.