Starting with the basics, intermodal shipping is simply using two or more modes of transportation. Utilizing intermodal containers, shipments are able to be moved seamlessly between cargo ships, trucks or trains. The advantages are plentiful, though it might be difficult to know how it tangibly affects the bottom line.
So, what are the business benefits of intermodal shipping?
Intermodal is a cost-effective, fuel-efficient, sustainable option when compared to long-haul trucking. Intermodal transportation has the available capacity needed by some and the consistent, reliable service expected by all.
While shipping by rail may sound old-fashioned, railcars hold significantly more load and offer more competitive pricing per mile than its counterparts. The cost is competitive, however, when freight needs to be moved long distances, rail can save businesses roughly .75–1 cent per ton-mile.
Many companies also consider their carbon footprint when choosing between freight shipping options. A standard truck can carry 80,000 pounds at a time and only gets around 7 miles/gallon, while rail can transport one ton of freight up to 500 miles on just a single gallon of gas. Having the option to move inventory in a way that is more sustainable, and only utilizing trucking in the last steps of delivery, make intermodal a choice many are making.
While local and regional shipping options are sufficient for some, intermodal transportation solves many capacity issues that companies may have. The consistency in service is not to be overlooked. Many drivers work on set schedules more closely aligned to office hours, having the option to ship via train means taking advantage of fully staffed loading docks that are equipped specifically for the incoming freight.
And intermodal shipping has come a long way with the adoption of 21st century technology. Rail has adopted automation technology that allows real-time tracking for every entity involved. This ensures the right people are where they need to be at the right time and on-time shipping and savings is passed on to the customer.
While businesses like Amazon and WalMart have perfected the free 2-day shipping option, many shipments cannot work on that model. Intermodal lead times can fluctuate due to many factors, so it is especially beneficial for shipments that have flexible timelines. Additionally, high volume and large capacity shipments have requirements that cannot be met with 2-day shipping style models. And while traditional trucking is not an option for every shipper, intermodal is.
For businesses looking for a cost-effective, sustainable shipping option, intermodal transportation offers benefits and rates that can’t be beat.