The Best Practices for Intermodal Freight Transportation

Best Practices for Intermodal Freight Transportation

Posted on:
Dec 21, 2021

The shipping industry is growing at an incredible rate and shippers are finding it harder to navigate the complicated supply chain process. With all the options to choose from, we get how overwhelming it can be to choose a transportation method that’s right for you. Naturally, there isn’t a one size fits all solution to logistics. However, one shipping method comes close –– intermodal freight transportation.

Intermodal shipping uses a variety of vehicles when transporting freight. Understanding the benefits of each transportation mode helps to determine which combination of vehicles will help reduce handling and overall costs. In this article, let’s learn about intermodal transportation, its benefits, and how you can make the most of this versatile shipping method.

What is intermodal freight transportation?

Intermodal freight is the transportation of products and raw materials in an intermodal vehicle or container through multiple modes of transportation:

  • Truck
  • Ship
  • Rail

It is a term used for two or more methods of transporting freight, most commonly truck and rail.

Intermodal container dimensions adhere to the International Organization for Standardization, which is why there is no need for additional handling when changing transportation modes. This prevents potential damage to products while encouraging seamless and fast delivery.

How does intermodal freight transportation work?

The most common intermodal process uses a combination of rail and truck transportation.

A truck will bring a container to a railway station, where the container will board another truck upon arrival at its destination.

When it comes to international intermodal shipping, a container is typically moved from a ship to rail for domestic transport. To get to its final destination, the container is typically transferred to a truck.

The railway system uses the least amount of fuel than any other form of road transport, which is why it’s popular for reducing shipping costs.

Intermodal Freight Transportation Benefits

If you’re still unsure whether intermodal transportation will benefit your shipping logistics, take a look at these points:


Intermodal shipping gives shippers the benefit of choosing which modes of transportation will use the least amount of fuel. Simply moving cargo by rail versus truck through a few hundred miles can significantly boost your savings.

Secure and Reliable

The dual-mode transportation through truck and rail is one of the most reliable shipping methods as the rail system is immune to delays caused by traffic, inclement weather, and less ideal road conditions.

On top of that, additional security is usually provided at rail systems, terminals, and ramps, preventing the likelihood of theft.

Lastly, because intermodal freight is subject to less handling, cargo damage or loss isn’t likely to occur.

Personalized Packaging

Since intermodal shipping containers stay sealed throughout the entirety of their journey, shippers have more flexibility in choosing their own packaging.

In case of any damage to your freight, the carrier will most likely shoulder the damage since it most likely occurred in transit.


Finding ways to reduce fuel consumption in logistics has the potential to eliminate carbon emissions and greenhouse gas.

Railway systems are the most fuel-efficient method of land transportation. According to research, transportation by train is 4.5 to 5 times more efficient than truck freight.

Intermodal Freight Transportation Best Practices

Getting started with intermodal transportation can be overwhelming, but once you get these practices down to a tee, we guarantee that you’ll surely reap the benefits.

Understand the benefits of each transportation mode

Before you book an intermodal shipment, you need to learn about the specific benefits of each shipping option.

For road transport, one of the first things you need to check is the amount of fuel consumed by your truck and rail options. On top of that, make sure to check head haul and backhaul pricing and requirements.

You also need to learn about the number of available containers and trailer types.

Compare the transit times and the overall costs of all road options, considering the proximity of terminals and their hours of operation.

Plan for intermodal shipping

Most shippers will overlook intermodal shipping over LTL and FTL freight.

If you’re scheduling multiple LTL shipments to the same destination within a short period, you’re missing the opportunity to reduce shipping costs via intermodal shipping.

Try to allocate some time to plan your shipping schedule so that you may be able to consolidate shipments that prioritize the rail option. In short, you’ll be incorporating bulk shipments through a combination of rail and track. For this, you’ll need to consider the available service services and their transit times throughout the week.

Secure packaging

Intermodal shipping containers stay sealed from pick up until it reaches the final destination. You need to give extra consideration to packaging your shipment.  Remember that it will be transferred from two or more vehicles, so you’ll want to keep the freight secure inside the container.

Try to reduce movement inside the container by distributing the weight of the cargo and avoiding stacking parcels. You can also use filler products to prevent cargo from shifting positions.

Intermodal container companies

There are many different types of intermodal providers, but we’ll focus on asset and non-asset intermodal marketing companies (IMC).

Bi-Modal IMC

Asset or Bi-modal IMCs own dray assets including containers, chassis, vehicles, and drivers. However, asset IMCs don’t own the railroad assets.

The most common bi-modal shipping methods are trailer on flat car (TOFC) and container on flat car (COFC).

Non-Asset IMC

Non-asset IMCs don’t own dray assets. They foster partnerships with various dray companies and railroads to provide their services.


There are no IMCs that own100% of the dray and railroad assets used throughout the shipment process.  In short, all intermodal companies depend on a portion of their services from other providers.

An online freight marketplace is the best way to find affordable freight services. On top of that, you can avoid the expenses that come with dealing with a freight broker.

To get started on intermodal shipping, get affordable LTL and FTL freight shipment quotes from the online calculator.

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