Can Intermodal Shipping Really Improve Efficiency and Lower Costs?

Intermodal Shipping

What is intermodal shipping?

Intermodal shipping uses multiple “modes” of transport in one shipment route. This typically includes several forms of trucks, railways, and ships to carry cargo across long distances in the most efficient way possible.

For example, goods going from California to New York might be loaded on a railway to travel across the country. They’re unloaded in New Jersey, and a truck carries the goods the remainder of the way to New York.

Alternatively, cargo is shipped overseas from China to Washington state via ocean freight. The container is unloaded at the port and brought to a rail yard. It’s loaded on a train, transported to a major metro area inland, and then the cargo gets on a truck to move to its final location.

When shipping intermodal, goods are placed in single-size containers that comfortably fit on trucks, rail, and boats. This consistent container packaging makes it easy and speedy to unload and re-load goods on multiple forms of transport. You can take them off ocean freight, put them on a train, and then move them to a car.

All this without ever having to change packaging or over-handle your freight.


What are the benefits of intermodal shipping?

Reduced Costs

Rail is generally more fuel-efficient than trucking. So, transporting the majority of the route distance via rail can lower costs and minimize carbon emissions.

Additionally, intermodal container fees tend to be lower than full truckload. This is because the containers are generally smaller, so they take up less space on the dock. They’re also easier to load and unload, which reduces labor time and expense.


Intermodal shipping generally uses consistent containers that fit on various types of trucks, rails, and boats. This means goods don’t need to be repackaged or sorted when they reach a central point to be transferred to another shipment mode. Unloading and loading are much faster and more straightforward, which saves a lot of time spent in distribution centers. This allows the goods to be delivered faster, and it also keeps dock space free for other transport modes.

Plus, there’s a comprehensive railway network set up in North America and an extensive ocean freight system between borders. It makes sense for shipping companies to utilize this kind of robust infrastructure to streamline shipments and routes.

Minimizes risk of damage

Storing goods in the same container basically from start to end reduces the amount of cargo handling. This, in turn, minimizes damage and loss. It also helps improve the security of sensitive freight, drastically minimizing the risk of theft and vandalism.


Trains are a much more environmentally conscious way to transport than by truck. It is estimated that rail shipping is capable of moving one ton of freight almost 450 miles on a single gallon of fuel. This reduces your carbon pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, which can improve your organizational sustainability. This is especially important if you have an eco-friendly brand mission that you want to stay true to in logistics.


Intermodal shipping is the most reliable way to bring goods across borders. You can utilize various forms of infrastructure present in different countries and cities to move your products. It’s especially useful when shipping throughout North America thanks to the complex line of railways east to west and north to south.

What are the best practices for intermodal shipping?


Know when to use intermodal shipping

Intermodal shipping has excellent benefits, but it’s not right for every situation. We recommend intermodal shipping if you’re sending across long haul lanes, like across multiple state lines or moving across the country. You also want to ensure your destination is near a major metro area so the railway will be able to leave the package at an active endpoint.

Intermodal shipping is the perfect choice when transporting multiple LTL shipments to the same destination with consistent frequency. Setting up intermodal routes can be challenging, so many companies won’t do it unless you frequently ship through that method.

Be aware of packaging

Many shippers make the mistake of “throwing” their goods in the shipping container since these containers are generally durable and robust. However, these containers experience a lot of movement during transport, especially during loading and unloading. So, you want to make sure your products are appropriately packaged within the container to protect from damage. You want to use blocking, bracing, and packing to keep freight secure during movement.

Take cost into account

Carriers calculate intermodal shipping similarly to full truckload (FTL). It’s calculated based on a cost per mile or a flat rate (based on available capacity and ramp to ramp distance). You may also be responsible for secondary mode and storage fees at the rail yards and docks, depending on whom you work with.

Drayage is an additional service that brings your goods from their penultimate destination at a distribution center to the final destination at a yard, warehouse, or even a customer’s home. Some companies will bundle these costs within the intermodal price to present you with a flat fee.

Every company will take a unique approach

Intermodal shipping naturally requires a lot of interaction and partnerships between different transport companies. So you could get different routes, services, offerings, and destinations based on the company you work with.

You’ll want to look at a variety of factors when determining if a shipment company is right for your intermodal transportation needs:


  • Location of the shipping company
  • Areas of origin and destination options
  • Materials being shipped
  • Partnerships with other transport companies
  • Time restrictions and specifications
  • Experience
  • Connections with railways


Final Thoughts

You want to work with a company who has knowledge and experience in the business. Preferably a shipper who has connections and partners in the industry, so you always get the most efficient and cost-effective shipping routes. And lastly, you want to work with someone who cares about your business and cargo.

That’s why you want to work with Redwood Logistics!

Contact us for a free consultation to discuss your cargo needs and start shipping your goods from A to B with ease. If you think multimodal or intermodal shipping is right for you, you can reach out to that team directly at or 877-874-7400. We’re excited to hear from you and get moving!