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Did you know that intermodal shipping can reduce transportation costs by up to 30% while cutting carbon emissions by 75%? Shipping is a critical component of a product’s lifecycle and a major investment for its producers. In one way or another, the product must make its way from its place of production to its purchaser.

Some companies use a single form of transportation, like trucks, to transport their products. While this seems like an easily manageable process, it comes at the cost of slower shipping times, higher transportation spend, and decreased environmental sustainability.

Intermodal providers exist to help solve these issues. Here, we discuss what intermodal shipping is, how it works, and who can benefit from shipping intermodal.

What Is Intermodal Shipping?

Intermodal shipping refers to the movement of goods from one place to another using multiple modes of transportation. This may include container ships, trains, and/or trucks.

Intermodal shipping differs from other shipping methods because it eliminates the need to handle the cargo during its journey. Instead, the freight is packed into intermodal containers where it remains from origin to destination. At DSL Logistics, we leverage our exclusive partnerships with industry leaders like Duncan and Son and 4Gen Logistics to enhance our intermodal services. These collaborations, combined with our partnership with Union Pacific for rail transport, ensure that your cargo is handled with the utmost care and efficiency.

Types of Intermodal Shipping

Intermodal transport involves two or more modes of transportation, all of which have different benefits:

  • Truck: Unlike other methods of freight transportation, trucks have the ability to make the final delivery of the freight to its destination. The use of long-haul trucking as part of intermodal shipping can also be advantageous since it involves fewer transfers of the containers between vessels. Our partnership with Duncan and Son ensures reliable trucking services that meet your delivery needs.
  • Rail: Freight railroads are beneficial for intermodal freight transportation due to their fuel efficiency, which results in lower costs. According to the Association of American Railroads, railroads can move one ton of freight nearly 500 miles per every gallon of fuel. Our collaboration with Union Pacific allows us to provide efficient and cost-effective rail transport solutions.
  • Sea: Ships work well for international shipping because of the massive amount of cargo they can transport. Some container ships can carry nearly 24,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) containers.
  • Air: Intermodal freight shipping via airplane is the fastest transportation mode for goods being transported long distances. However, it’s also the most expensive. Air freight can cost up to 20 times more than other transportation modes.

How Does Intermodal Shipping Work?

The intermodal shipping process can be thought of as a cycle. Here’s how it works from start to finish:

  • Origin: The process begins where the goods are produced, such as at a manufacturing facility. When the goods are ready to be shipped, they’re packed and sealed in an intermodal container.
  • First mode: The container is transferred to the initial transportation mode, which is usually a truck. Trucks typically carry multiple containers to rail terminals for the next part of the journey. Our partnership with Duncan and Son ensures that your cargo is efficiently transported to the rail terminals.
  • Intermediate transfers: During its trip, the container will likely be brought to a hub where it will be transported from one mode of transportation to the next. The process is seamless, as these hubs are specifically designed for this purpose.
  • Second mode: Next is often a long-haul portion of the journey, where the containerized cargo may be transported by ship or intermodal rail. These transportation modes can travel hundreds or thousands of miles and move goods with efficiency. Our collaboration with Union Pacific provides you with reliable rail transport solutions.
  • Final mode: The final mode of intermodal transportation is similar to the first. The container is transferred to a truck for the last part of the journey. The truck brings the container to the designated warehouse, where the goods will be removed and made ready for customers. Our partnership with 4Gen Logistics ensures that this final leg of the journey is handled with care, using eco-friendly vehicles.

Benefits of Intermodal Shipping

Intermodal shipping offers many benefits for companies that rely on shipping for their business model. Here are some reasons to choose this type of shipping over other methods of moving freight:

  • Real-time Insights: Advanced supply chain visibility tools offer real-time tracking for shipments. These tools allow you to view your cargo’s location and status at any time so you’re never left wondering where a shipment might be. This visibility allows for more effective planning, provides peace of mind, and can assist with accurately answering customer queries.
  • Smoother Transitions: Shipping containers are sealed throughout their journey, eliminating the need to unpack and repack the intermodal freight between different modes of transportation. The container arrives at its final destination without ever being opened. This helps simplify intermodal logistics while also reducing delays.
  • Lower Costs: Using intermodal shipping for the movement of cargo can lead to significant cost savings. Companies can save a considerable amount on transportation costs by choosing the most economical mode for each part of the journey. For example, a company may want to use a train for the longest part of the trip, as trains are cheaper because they can carry far more containers at once.
  • Reliable Capacity: Intermodal shipping has less competition than other methods of transport, which makes capacity more readily available when needed. Companies won’t have to worry about having enough room on each mode of transportation with the way the containers are loaded. For example, double stacking is common for containers on freight trains.
  • Improved Safety & Security: Intermodal container doors cannot be opened once the container is dropped in a train well, where they’re also high off the ground. This keeps the goods safer and less susceptible to theft. Additionally, since trains travel on railroad tracks rather than highways like trucks, they don’t share their travel path with thousands of other vehicles, which reduces the likelihood of accidents.
  • Increased Sustainability: If you’re transporting intermodal shipments long distances on land, rail is the most efficient way to do so. This transportation method’s fuel efficiency reduces the transportation industry’s carbon footprint by emitting less greenhouse gases. Moving freight by rail instead of truck lowers greenhouse gas emissions by up to 75%. To quantify the impact, greenhouse gas emissions would fall by more than 20 tons annually if only 10% of the freight carried by the world’s largest trucks was moved to rail instead.

Who Should Use Intermodal Shipping?

Intermodal shipping is a great option for companies who ship their products long distances—typically more than 500 miles—and want to reap significant savings while improving their supply chains. Both international and domestic intermodal shipping are available, so there’s no limit to where goods can be sent.

Streamline Your Shipping With Intermodal Logistics Services

Intermodal shipping works to make the transportation of goods from one point to another efficient and cost-effective while also maintaining safety and reliability. DSL Logistics, with our exclusive partnerships with Duncan and Son, 4Gen Logistics, and Union Pacific, is committed to excellence and innovation as the country’s premier intermodal service provider. With over 80 years of logistics experience, we’re ready to handle your intermodal logistical challenges so you can focus on your business.

Take the hassle out of your shipping process—get started today!