A common misconception is that an origin and destination must have tracks at their doors to use rail. Fortunately, that’s not the case. Thanks to intermodal shipping and transloading, products can move seamlessly between trucks and trains and back again. If an origin isn’t rail-served, trucks can pick up your products and they can be transferred to a train at a transload facility or intermodal ramp. Then, if the destination isn’t rail-served, they can be transferred back to trucks for final delivery.
Intermodal: Technically, intermodal shipping simply refers to moving freight by two or more modes of transportation. But when rail shippers talk about “intermodal,” they usually mean shipments that travel in containers. With intermodal shipping, products are loaded into a container, which is then placed on a truck chassis. Once it reaches an intermodal ramp, the container is lifted off the chassis, then placed on a flat or well car to travel by train. The container is then transferred back to a truck for final delivery.
Transloading: Transloading is very similar to intermodal shipping in that products are transferred between trucks and trains. The difference is that, where products stay in the same container from origin to destination when shipped intermodally, with transloading, products are moved between containers. For instance, a forklift may transfer palletized goods from a truck to a larger rail car, or a crane may lift heavy products like steel beams off a rail car and place them on a flatbed truck.
Shippers leverage intermodal shipping and transloading as a means of accessing the economic advantages of shipping by rail. Doing so combines the flexibility of over-the-road trucking with the affordability of long-haul rail shipping, all without an investment in tracks.