What Is Intermodal Transportation?

What Is Intermodal Transportation?

Shipping is essential for businesses and private citizens around the world. When you need to move things from point A to point B, you rely on shipping services to get the job done. But some items need more planning to successfully ship, especially larger items like cars, trucks, agriculture equipment and construction equipment.

But what is the best way to move these types of items? You have a few options at your disposal, including intermodal trucking and other forms of intermodal shipping. Continue reading to learn the pros and cons of intermodal transportation to determine whether this type of shipping model is right for your needs.

What Is Intermodal Transportation?

Intermodal transportation is a method for moving goods in the same shipping containers using different transportation mediums. For instance, a shipment can start on a truck and then move to a rail. Once it reaches the final rail destination, a truck may be waiting to complete the shipment to the facility by road. Or the process can start on a truck, move to ocean freight and return to trucking from the next harbor.

In short, intermodal transportation is any form of shipment that uses at least two different shipping methods while keeping the goods in the same container on their way to the final destination. That’s the key to intermodal shipping — the goods stay in the same container, even as the container is moved from a truck to an ocean freighter, from the ocean freighter to a rail and so on. The different shipping mediums can happen in any order.

What Can You Transport Using Intermodal Shipping?

You can ship nearly anything that will fit into an intermodal shipping container, as long as it follows all transportation guidelines and relevant laws. If the involved shipping parties are willing to ship it, then you should be good to go. It could be anything from cars and trucks to industrial equipment and bulk products. Intermodal shipping is flexible to meet a variety of needs. 

Note that most shipping companies will turn down shipping requests for personal property, food, pets, passengers or living things in general. Work with a shipping logistics partner to ensure your intermodal shipping request is a success from start to finish, and follow all laws and regulations in the process. 

The Benefits of Intermodal Transportation

Intermodal shipping provides many advantages that target some of the most crucial transportation concerns. Here are six benefits of intermodal shipping. 

1. Cost

Combining various transportation modes to ship your goods gives you greater efficiency with better pricing. For example, using rail for the long-haul portion and trucking for the connecting segments can lower costs, increase flexibility and provide better service. The more time your shipment spends on rail, the better value you’ll get compared to doing the entire shipment on wheels. 

2. Capacity

Intermodal shipping offers greater capacity to meet your needs. The drive for truckers at the origin and destination points is usually rather short when shipping intermodal, allowing the same trucker to make multiple turns to load and unload more of your goods at a time. This is opposed to long-haul trips where one trucker may have to drive thousands of miles before taking another load. 

3. Visibility

You get excellent visibility when shipping intermodal, as each container is scanned when it enters the ramp during the intermodal loading process. This process lets you and the shipping companies track your goods from their origin to their destination and any stops between. 

4. Reliability

Intermodal shipping is a safe, secure transportation method that avoids unnecessary handling of freight. This reduction in handling can also reduce losses and damages while increasing security at every stage of the process. 

5. Environmental Friendliness

Intermodal transportation is environmentally sustainable. Rail transportation uses less fuel than trucking when load sizes and distances are equal. This results in less greenhouse gas emissions and carbon pollution as you ship your goods from point A to point B. 

6. Liability Coverage

Intermodal shipping gives you access to cargo insurance that can give you greater peace of mind. And when you rely on rail for the long-haul portions, you’re giving fewer opportunities for thieves to strike and road accidents to occur, thanks to the many safety benefits of rail shipping. 

Liability Coverage

The Disadvantages of Intermodal Transportation

Despite the many exciting advantages of intermodal shipping, there are some concerns you should know about. Here are some of intermodal shipping’s drawbacks. 

1. Shipping Times

Intermodal shipping demands more planning by shippers because of the loading and unloading that occurs when changing transportation modes. Plus, only certain railways have stops that can accept trucks for changing to road shipping.

2. Blocking and Bracing

Blocking and bracing demands extra time, effort and money to keep the goods secure during transit. Intermodal containers experience a phenomenon called harmonic vibration, which can cause the goods within a container to shift. Blocking and bracing is necessary to ensure a safe shipment. 

3. Item Limitations

Intermodal shipments often come with item limitations and restrictions. Prohibited items are those that you are unable to ship under any circumstances, whereas restricted items have various regulations and rules you’ll need to know about to ensure legal transportation. 

4. Weight Limitations

You’ll also need to be aware of weight limitations when considering intermodal shipments. The weight limit of trucking-only shipments is different and often higher than intermodal shipments. This may change your plans if you need to conduct a shipment over a certain number. Talk to your shipping and logistics partner for more information. 

5. Limited Origins and Destinations

Unlike trucking, intermodal transportation is unable to reach every origin and destination zip code on the continent. This is because there are only so many intermodal railroad ramps. Origin and destination drays must be somewhere under 100 miles from their respective ramp, ideally. 

6. Not for Small Shipments

Intermodal shipping is only economical when you need to transport large shipments. In fact, there is a volume requirement that you need to reach to obtain contractual pricing, which gives you several shipments a week on the same freight lane. 

Who Should Use Intermodal Transportation?

Intermodal shipping can be a valid transportation option for anyone who needs to ship bulk goods. It’s more a matter of “what” you’re shipping rather than “who” you are and whether intermodal shipping is right for you as a person or business. 

Understand what items you need to ship and any shipping requirements associated with them. Consider the cost of shipping only by truck and whether you’ll get a better value if you choose intermodal shipping instead. Make sure your goods are legal to ship across transportation modes and local guidelines. Once you answer these questions and consider the pros and cons above, you’ll know whether intermodal shipping is right for you. 

Get Your Goods on the Move

Get Your Goods on the Move

Nationwide Transport Services (NTS) has been helping people like you ship goods since 2009. Today, we are an industry-leading logistic transport company ready to meet your shipping needs across our variety of transportation services

Contact us today to take the next step toward achieving your shipping goals. 


Reach out to a logistics specialist from Nationwide Transport Services, LLC for more information on any topic in logistics by dialing (877) 278-3135.

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