As the two root parts of “intermodal” (“inter” and “mode”) suggest, the shipping refers to combining transportation methods. Transferring goods by ship, train, and truck — as opposed to strictly truck — has myriad benefits worthy of consideration.
All shipments from overseas are intermodal by definition, because it will take multiple shipment methods to transport the goods from the point of pickup to delivery. When shipping goods from overseas, carriers must either select plane or boat to transport the load to the landmass ultimately receiving its delivery. Aside from being very expensive for even parcel-sized packages, air shipping is almost never used in the transportation of freight because there is simply not enough space. A large shipment would take a fleet of planes to carry goods across an ocean, whereas one cargo ship can transport a multitude of full containers.
Even when shipping goods within the same country, continent, or region, many companies opt to combine forces of trucks and rail shipping. More and more shippers are opting for the benefits of intermodal shipping.
Intermodal shipping comes with a unique set of pros and cons. The primary strike against intermodal shipping is that it takes longer and is less flexible than full truckload or partial truckload shipping. This makes sense considering trains can not change routes the same way truck drivers can. Because intermodal transportation involves the overlap of many containers en route to various endpoints, it is imperative that the trains and trucks run on time. This doesn’t allow shippers the same flexibility they would have if they paid for a full truckload shipment and had control over the pickup time, location, and any changes to route along the journey.
However, what intermodal shipping lacks in flexibility and timeliness, it makes up for in significant cost savings, better predictability, increased cargo security, reduced carbon emissions, and more predictability.
Economical: to offset the lessened flexibility, intermodal shipping represents a significant cost savings. Intermodal rail shipping is economically advantageous for those who can plan their shipments ahead of time
Less Variable: While you will have to plan for a longer lead time between shipment and receipt of your cargo, the timing of arrival using intermodal transportation tends to be very reliable. Unlike trucks, rail shipments are far less susceptible to mistakes of human error (getting lost, traffic accidents) & problems caused by the elements (storms, traffic).
Secure: Intermodal transportation is more secure than standard shipping, because the cargo is never handled by personnel. Cranes lift entire carriers of goods from boat to train or train to truck, so no box can conspicuously go missing
Environmental: Thanks to the large shipments of goods inherent to the intermodal freight shipping business model, each fuel expenditure (train, boat, truck) maximizes the amount of freight carried. This translates into getting goods from point A to point B with a reduced impact on the environment
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