R2 Logistics

7 Tips for Intermodal Transportation Success

7 Tips for Intermodal Transportation Success

Intermodal transportation is a process that uses two or more modes or carriers to transport goods from the shipper to the receiver. Typically this involves a truck that transports a container to the railroad, where another truck picks up the container and delivers it to the drop-off address. In a tight market this method is advantageous for shippers because it frees up other drivers so they can make additional deliveries. Plus, the cost of intermodal transportation is less than compared to truckload shipping because the cost is charged per load instead of per mile.

Here are seven tips for guaranteeing Intermodal success:

1. The Right Lane is a Differentiator

Shipments with longer distances between pickup and delivery equate to better intermodal loads. Typically, 500 miles on the rail is the shortest cutoff for distance. Any less and the shipper may not save any cost when considering drayage to and from the rail terminals. Shippers will also want to account for the distance between the rail ramps, and you don’t want to be more than 50 or 100 miles away.

2. All Loads are Not Created Equal 

Loads best suited for intermodal transportation are raw production materials, packaging materials, and goods being transferred from one warehouse to another. Ultimately, you want to move items that can afford an extra bit of time and not ending in a sale.

3. Rail Can’t be Rushed 

Rail services can be much cheaper than over-the-road services, but it is ultimately much slower. If you have some lead time to play with and you’re not eager for a quick delivery, then intermodal is your best option.

4. Know Your Options

Third Party Logistics providers that maintain relationships with rail carriers can offer different routes, transit times and rates for a given load. For example, if it’s a load from Chicago to Los Angeles, a lane with multiple terminals and different routes and cutoff times, the shipper can determine which one meets their budget and timeline.

5. Watch Weight and Dimensions

A domestic intermodal container may have slightly different dimensions than a truck trailer. This can often disqualify certain loads. The standard truckload weight is 45,000 pounds, while intermodal can only load at 42,500 pounds.

6. Block and Brace

To prevent loads from shifting and reduce the possibility for product damage, shippers should block and brace the freight properly. While on the rail, vibrations can cause the load to slide. When the container returns to the road this can affect weight distribution and how much weight a truck may carry over the road.

7. Technology is on Your Side

A transportation management system (TMS) can search multiple modes for the best solution and offer tracking capabilities for supply chain visibility. Not to mention, a TMS can offer historical data as well as analytics for proactive insights. The decision-making process has never been easier!

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