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When to Ship Intermodal

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When to Ship Intermodal

Maximizing freight spend is possibly one of the most significant challenges facing transportation procurement professionals. With driver scarcity and increased demand, especially for e-commerce shipping, over-the-road rates are at historical highs. Intermodal can be a fantastic solution for improving environmental sustainability and optimizing capacity requirements and freight spend. For those of you who are unfamiliar with intermodal shipping, you might be wondering – When should I use intermodal?

In this blog post we will address what intermodal is, when to use it, and the benefits it offers.

What is Intermodal?

Intermodal shipping involves two or more modes of transportation to get freight from the shipper to the consignee without any handling of the freight itself between modes. For example:



In the example above, there are three modes of transportation involved – Ocean, Over-the-Road, and Rail. Domestic North American intermodal shipping usually refers to the combination of truck and rail.

When should I ship Intermodal?

Here are some guidelines to help determine if your shipments are a good fit for intermodal shipping:

  • The longer the linehaul, the greater the cost advantage. The best intermodal lanes are 600+ miles between the shipper and the consignee.
  • You have adequate lead time and some flexibility. Intermodal can extend transit times from 1-3 days.
  • Weight can be a strong determining factor when choosing to ship over-the-road or intermodal. A standard 53’ container can handle 43,500lbs and a 40’ container can handle 44,000lbs. If you are shipping domestically within Canada, these weight limits increase significantly.  
  • Large volumes and frequent shipments work well with Intermodal as this mode of transportation offers the ability to create drop pools at origin and destination.
  • High Value goods are a great candidate for Intermodal shipping. With less stops and more time off the road, there is less risk of theft or accidents.

What are the advantages of shipping Intermodal?

There are many advantages to moving your Domestic North American freight via intermodal.

  • More capacity commitments, especially for frequent shipments.
  • Many people think that rail visibility is poor. That is a misconception as there are a multitude of scans in the intermodal shipping process with live updates.
  • Safety and security of your freight is optimal when shipping intermodal. Railyards are highly monitored – drivers are even required to provide fingerprints for each load!
  • Where over-the-road pricing and capacity can vary between 35-40% during peak seasons, rail rates usually fluctuate between 10-15% which makes planning your yearly freight spend more accurate.
  • Shipping via rail is more environmentally sustainable than over-the-road. Here are some facts you might not have known about the environmental advantages of rail shipping:

1 ton of freight can ship 400 miles on 1 gallon of fuel

Moving freight via rail instead of over-the-road can reduce a company’s carbon footprint by up to 75%

Trains are 10x more energy efficient than trucks

Intermodal shipping allows for freight containers to be double stacked increasing the train’s capacity. One train can haul approximately 100 containers. That is a 100:1 ratio in favor of trains

Drayage, interliner fees, equipment supply, and fuel can all fluctuate throughout the year based on several factors. For this reason, intermodal pricing, while contractually static, will fluctuate for spot shipments.

Does your company have freight that fits the profile of a good intermodal shipment? Are you looking to optimize your freight spend, regulate shipping costs, ensure capacity year-round and reduce your carbon footprint? What are you waiting for? Contact our TRAFFIX Intermodal team for a quote today! You can reach them at intermodal@traffix.com