An Introduction to Intermodal Shipping

Intermodal Shipping

Sometimes – a single routed shipment is just not enough. For those situations that require multiple modes of transportation, whether due to needs or economic purposes, many shippers utilize intermodal shipping. Intermodal transportation is the process of using more than one shipping source to move freight that is stored in a container. While there are several ways to move freight across the US, many shippers are beginning to choose intermodal for several reasons.

In the information below, we’ll provide an introduction to intermodal shipping by explaining the facts, comparing it with multimode transportation, and provide a few general benefits for using this mode of transportation.

What is Intermodal Shipping?

In the supply chain there are several modes of transportation including trucking, shipping, air, and rail. When a shipper combines two of these modes to move freight from one location to another, with commodities stored in a container that does not require transfer to different containers, it’s known as an intermodal shipment. The most common type of intermodal shipping in the United States is when a truck picks up a container, transfers to a railway, with a truck completing the final delivery. Intermodal shipping is extremely popular in the US, mainly due to our exceptional and reliable railway network. In fact, each year, intermodal shipping equates to about 25 million containers moved.

What is Multimodal Shipping?

While the intermodal process is the movement of freight by two unique modes, the multimode transport involves more than two modes. The key difference however is that the freight itself can be transferred to different containers – but the freight is protected by the carrier from pick-up to final delivery. Typically, the multimodal carrier - also known as a multimodal transport operator (MTO) will sub-contract individual mode carriers that specialize in unique modes to transport commodities from the point of origin to its final destination. When a shipper chooses a multimode shipment, a single contract of carriage is established. The intermodal movement requires different contracts for each carrier.

The Benefits of Using Intermodal Shipping

It is assumed that intermodal shipping is used based on limitations of shipping. However, more shippers (especially those with large volume shipments that can be stored in containers) are beginning to discover several ancillary benefits to moving freight via two modes of transportation. Here are a few of the benefits of using intermodal shipping.

  • Cost of Fuel Savings: Transporting commodities via intermodal shipping can save a shipper a tremendous amount of money. One of the biggest savings is fuel – which is significantly less with the railway system as opposed to over the road transport.
  • A Robust Railway System: If there is one strength of North America’s transit network – it’s the railway. North America has the most comprehensive and dependable railway system on the planet – which makes it an exceptionally reliable mode of transportation. Shippers can move freight from the US north to Canada and south to Mexico with relative ease and significantly reduced delays of transportation. The trade agreements with all three countries make it much easier.
  • Easy Storage: One of the leading ancillary costs for moving freight is storage. When you move freight via LTL, FTL, or multimodal, sometimes freight will require a transfer from one container to another – and sometimes, stored at a depot to wait for movement. These storage fees can add up and cost shippers a lot of money. Since the intermodal shipment is stored in the same container, it’s easier to store – making container storage fees much cheaper than a full truckload or other methods.

Intermodal shipping is an exceptional way to move freight across North America. If you’re new to large volume shipping or looking for more efficient modes of transport, a third-party logistics provider like Redwood Logistics can significantly help. Thanks to our recent acquisition by Redwood Logistics – our combined efforts offers us the flexibility to expand our services – which now includes intermodal shipping.

If you’re a shipper in any industry looking to save money and improve supply chain movement efficiency, give us a call today!