3 Facts to Know about Intermodal Rail Shipping

Intermodal rail shipping offers safe, efficient and reliable transportation services to businesses across the country. The intermodal rail industry transports anywhere from 13 to 15 million shipping containers on railroad flat cars every year. Intermodal is the largest source of freight rail revenue because they offer environmentally friendly and competitively priced transportation. The four major railroad organizations have invested billions of dollars in new terminals, equipment and infrastructure.

Industry Overview
Intermodal rail involves the long-haul movement of truck trailers and shipping containers between railway hubs. Sometimes, the containers must be transported by truck between shipping hubs. The intermodal system allows customers, railroads, trucking companies and ocean container carriers to synchronize various transportation modes together for efficient and cost-effective overall freight movement. When the intermodal rail system started during the 1980’s, around three million containers were being shipped every year. During the 1990s, this number increased to six million and after the year 2000, the annual number was around nine million. Intermodal rail is used to transport a wide variety of goods that people buy and sell every day. Almost everything found in retail stores is transported by intermodal train systems. Intermodal is the primary transporter of industrial products, such as chemicals and auto parts, and agricultural products, such as grain and lumber.

Intermodal Rail Growth
The intermodal rail industry is growing because of better service times, quality and performance. The railroad industry understands that reliability is crucial to smooth and successful operations, so intermodal rail service is far more efficient and productive. However, this has cost the railroad industry hundreds of millions of dollars, so service fees are sometimes quite high. However, railroads are three to four times more fuel efficient than trucks, so companies can still save money. Companies also face the problem of truck driver shortages. Finding reliable and qualified long-haul truck drivers is a constant challenge for trucking companies. The turnover rate at transportation companies can be anywhere between 50 to 100 percent, so intermodal rail shipping solves this problem. Because about half of intermodal rail volume is import and export products, there is always a strong demand for efficient and reliable transportation services.

A third fact that most people do not know is that the transportation industry plays a vital role in the nation’s economy. As railroad services become more cost effective, fuel efficient and environmentally friendly, more and more businesses will rely on them to ship containerized goods.

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