What is Intermodal Transportation?

Intermodal is a term we see all the time in freight and supply chain logistics, but what does it actually mean? It’s pretty simple – intermodal transportation uses two or more modes or carriers to transport freight from shipper to consignee. This shipping strategy began in 18th century England, and in the 1950s, the steel intermodal transportation container was standardized based on design specifications from the US DoD. Today’s intermodal containers often include further specializations, such as CLX Bulktainers for liquid chemicals, allowing carriers to transport liquid chemicals between trucks, trains, and ships without handling any actual cargo. When considering different strategies, shippers want to balance cost and service, and intermodal is often an effective solution to meeting those goals.

The Intermodal Transportation Process

A typical path for an intermodal freight transportation process is rail, truck, ship, truck. Truck transports between rail terminals and ocean ports are a specialized form of trucking referred to as drayage and are often handled by specialists. An example of this process could look like this:

  1. A truck brings an empty container to a shipper
  2. The container is loaded with freight and taken to the railyard by truck
  3. The container is put on a train and moved to its destination region
  4. The container is put on a truck, delivered to the consignee, and unloaded
  5. The container is ready for reuse with another load

When is Intermodal the Right Choice for Shipping?

Of course, not every shipment will require multiple modes of transportation to reach their destinations efficiently. Here are a few things to consider when looking at intermodal compared to traditional OTR shipments.

  • Intermodal is ideal for intermediate and finished goods in load units of less than 25 tons.
  • The longer the travel distance, the more cost-effective intermodal becomes. Freight moving more than 300 miles or one day by truck is a great candidate.
  • Intermodal transportation is suitable for cargo with a variety of value levels.
  • Intermodal is a great option when cargo flow needs to be continuous and in similar quantities.

It’s critical for shippers to choose optimal solutions for their cargo and ensure compliance at every step to avoid unnecessary costs, possible fines, additional freight charges, and labor costs to rework loads. Accessorial charges like demurrage, detention, delays, and per diem can also crop up with non-compliant intermodal loads. High-value shipments are not a requirement, but the nature of intermodal includes an added layer of freight security, as there is no easy way for an individual to remove specialized steel containers from trains and trucks or take possession of cargo.

What Are the Key Advantages of Intermodal Transportation?

Save Up to 30% Compared to OTR Chemical Shipments

Intermodal transportation helps shippers cut costs by up to 30% on deliveries across the United States with a state-of-the-art intermodal transportation network and industry-leading TMS.

Eliminate Driver Capacity Constraint Issues

Whether drivers are falling ill, a region has been wracked by storms or any other situation that would cause capacity issues, intermodal eliminates these concerns while keeping costs low.

Forward Storage Solutions

Intermodal solves time constraints with solutions with forward storage solutions, allowing for strategic product storage that can be dispatched to customers throughout the region at a moment’s notice.

Reduce Your Overall Carbon Footprint

Significant use of railways dramatically reduces the environmental impact of commercial transportation by a factor of four compared to over-the-road.

Upgrading Your Transportation & Supply Chain Network to Intermodal

Now that you understand what intermodal is and how it works, start thinking about saving time and money for yourself and your clients. Talk to CLX Logistics today to get started. With a little information about the chemicals you’re shipping, quantities, and destinations, along with input on the parts of your existing process that cause the most pain, we can develop an intermodal solution that offers extreme dependability and savings that directly benefit your customers. Spend less time reacting to interruptions and dealing with problems and more time optimizing your supply chain to achieve consistent and exceptional results.


Back to Resources