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What Is Intermodal Shipping In Logistics?

July 19, 2021 3PL

Companies, distribution centers, fulfillment centers, and warehouses strive to move product orders out the shipping doors and to the customer as quickly and efficiently as possible. To do so, they rarely use just one mode of transportation. Thus, many businesses rely on intermodal logistics.

What is intermodal logistics? While sending shipments from point A to point B seems like a simple process, economic factors, like fuel prices, and geographical landscapes such as rivers and mountains, may prolong shipping times and increase transportation costs. Using only one mode of transportation may allow the freight to reach its destination. Yet the company could shell out more money toward fuel costs while the freight arrives late due to shipping route restrictions.

Intermodal logistics involves using more than one mode of transportation for the shipment. For example, the warehouse may begin to ship the intermodal freight by truck that heads to the rail yard. From there, the train moves the shipment to a different rail yard location closer to the customer,where it is picked up by a truck to make the final delivery.

3PLs and Intermodal Shipping

For third-party logistics companies (3PLs), answering the question “What is intermodal transportation?” requires more than just understanding the modes of transportation used to ship. It also entails knowing how to maximize shipment capacity when required to get the most shipments to a destination.

Consider the following modes of transportation:

  • Trucking logistics:The 3PL works with many fleet carriers to coordinate intermodal shipments. If two carriers are picking up shipments from the rail yard or airport that need to go to the same destination, the 3PL may make changes so that the entire shipment is transported through one carrier.
  • Rail logistics:A 3PL uses truck containers that may easily be used on flat bed trains. The 3PL requests warehouses to make a shorter trip to the rail yard with its LTL shipments, where intermodal freight is separated and consolidated into containers based on destination.
  • Shipping logistics:In many instances, companies ship freight overseas. The 3PL plans for truck or rail service to pick up the shipments from the docks.
  • Aircraft logistics:Third-party logistics use commercial aircraft daily to move freight quickly across the country. They also rely on aircraft logistics when moving freight to remote destinations where trains and truck fleets cannot reach.

Benefits of Intermodal Transportation

Companies can find benefits from intermodal transportation throughout their supply chains:

  • Diversifies capacity:Companies are not confined to only using one mode of transportation. Instead, using intermodal logistics allows them to work with manufacturers and suppliers globally, and then use the transportation option that will get their shipment to the location in the fastest and most cost-effective manner.
  • Reduces fuel costs:Intermodal logistics can help companies reduce fuel costs based on the fluctuating fuel market. They can decide on the mode of transportation that is easier on the wallet at any given time or season.
  • Increases shipment safety:Companies may use shipping containers that can be switched between modes of transportation. The ship carries the containers to the dock as they become transferred to the truck. Then, the truck carries the containers to the rail yard as heavy equipment is loaded onto the train’s flatbed. The contents in the containers remain securely packed until reaching the destination.
  • Convenience:Using intermodal logistics allows companies to track shipments through the transportation mode of their choosing. With the truck driver shortage causing uncertainties, this transportation strategy better ensures that shippers have access to a variety of shipping methods.

Industries Using Intermodal Logistics

Companies from a host of industries may use intermodal logistics. Keep in mind that some industries require specialized logistical strategies. For example, when transporting intermodal freight requiring refrigeration or when dealing with hazardous materials.

Some industries benefiting from intermodal logistics include:

  • Construction
  • Mining
  • Oil and gas
  • Agricultural Products
  • Electronics
  • Consumer goods
  • Food and beverage
  • Industrial and manufacturing

There are also intermodal carriers that provide a range of services and processes. Some carriers own their intermodal containers, truck fleets, and rail yards. Other intermodal carriers may own their fleets but form contracts with rail yards. There may be a few carriers that do not own their trucks or containers but have contracts and partnerships with fleet carriers and rail lines.

Trying to get your shipment to its destination on time becomes a logistical nightmare without the best logistical strategies for your supply chains. When looking for cost-effective transportation solutions, turn to WSI.

We are an innovative 3PL with the largest network of rail-served warehouses. Our Transportation Team, WSI Freight Solutions, provides versatile shipping options — including intermodal shipping processes. We can manage your entire operations, from inventory management to warehousing and distribution, import/export, and transload services.

Let our company find you the most cost-effective mode of transportation for your intermodal shipment. Contact WSI today to learn more.

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