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 to make additional deliveries. Plus, the cost of intermodal transportation is less than truckload shipping because the cost is charged per load instead of per mile.

If nothing else resonates from this blog, here some key takeaways when understanding intermodal transportation:

  • Mode Integration: Intermodal transportation integrates various modes of transport seamlessly. This can include combinations like truck and rail, ship and truck, or truck and air, among others. This integration aims to capitalize on the strengths of each mode while mitigating their weaknesses.
  • Efficiency: Intermodal transportation can improve overall transportation efficiency. By using different modes in a coordinated manner, it can reduce transit times, lower transportation costs, and decrease energy consumption compared to relying on a single mode.
  • Flexibility: It offers flexibility in route planning and scheduling. Companies can choose the best combination of modes and routes based on factors like distance, cargo type, time sensitivity, and cost considerations.
  • Reduced Congestion: Intermodal transportation can help alleviate congestion on roads and highways by shifting some freight transport to rail or other modes. This can reduce the wear and tear on infrastructure and enhance road safety.
  • Environmental Benefits: Intermodal transportation is often considered more environmentally friendly than using a single mode for long-distance transportation. Rail and water transport, for example, tend to have lower emissions per unit of cargo compared to trucks.
  • Cost Savings: Companies can often realize cost savings by using intermodal transportation. It may involve economies of scale, lower fuel costs, reduced labor expenses, and more efficient cargo handling.
  • Transloading: Transloading refers to the process of transferring cargo from one mode of transportation to another (e.g., from a ship to a truck or from a truck to a train). Properly managed transloading facilities are critical for smooth intermodal operations.
  • Infrastructure Requirements: Effective intermodal transportation requires a well-developed infrastructure that supports seamless transitions between modes. This includes terminals, ports, rail yards, and well-maintained road networks.
  • Technological Advancements: Technology plays a crucial role in optimizing intermodal transportation. Advanced tracking systems, telematics, and route optimization software help streamline operations and improve visibility.
  • Regulatory and Compliance Considerations: Different modes of transportation are subject to various regulations and compliance requirements. Understanding and adhering to these regulations is essential to avoiding legal issues and delays.
  • Global Supply Chains: Intermodal transportation is vital for global supply chains, allowing goods to move efficiently between different regions and countries. It’s particularly important for industries like manufacturing, retail, and e-commerce.
  • Risk Management: Companies engaged in intermodal transportation must manage risks associated with multiple modes, including weather-related disruptions, labor strikes, and equipment breakdowns. Risk mitigation strategies and contingency plans are crucial.
  • Intermodal Partnerships: Collaboration and partnerships between transportation providers (e.g., carriers, logistics companies, terminals) are common in intermodal transportation. These partnerships can lead to more efficient and cost-effective solutions.
  • Customer Service: Intermodal transportation providers must focus on providing high-quality customer service. This includes timely deliveries, accurate tracking and tracing of shipments, and responsive customer support.

In summary, intermodal transportation is a complex but valuable approach for moving goods and people efficiently. It involves a combination of modes, careful planning, infrastructure development, and compliance with regulations to reap its full benefits. Understanding these key takeaways can help businesses and transportation professionals make informed decisions and optimize their supply chain and logistics operations.




Here Are 7 Tips for Guaranteeing Intermodal Success:

1. The Right Lane is a Differentiator

Shipments with longer distances between pickup and delivery equate to better intermodal transportation 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 are 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 quick delivery, then intermodal transportation 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 transportation 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 provide historical data as well as analytics for proactive insights. The decision-making process has never been easier!