What to Consider When Shipping Intermodal


What to Consider When Shipping Intermodal

One of the most common type of questions when people ask us about shipping intermodal is, what makes a good intermodal customer?

Or sometimes, what would constitute a not-so-great intermodal customer?

Location Matters

One of the first things to look at is, where are your shipper and receiver physically located? The U.S. rail intermodal network covers a large portion of the country, however there are some regions that may not be intermodal friendly. Some of these areas would include, much of Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Oklahoma. Even though an area may have rail service, every rail yard or ramp may not be an intermodal facility. If a shipper or receiver is more than 100- to 150- miles from the nearest rail ramp, the dray cost could prohibit that lane from being cost effective.
Another aspect to consider is, do your shippers and receivers have some flexibility with their shipping or receiving hours? Rail movements can be less than precise at times, for various reasons, which could include but are not limited to:

  • Weather,
  • An originating train not having enough freight to meet tonnage requirements resulting in delays by a few hours or a day or two,
  • Longer than expected interchange times, which is when containers switch from one railroad to another. This is usually a two-day process, but can take longer.

Dray Carriers

Pick-ups and deliveries depend on dray carriers and their schedules. If they are detained on any previous movements, that can affect their entire schedule for the rest of that day. Sometimes this causes appointments to run late, or be missed entirely, resulting in having to reset the missed appointments for the following day or the soonest time possible. If you have a shipper or receiver who imposes financial penalties for missing appointments, intermodal would not be a good fit. At the very least, that customer would require consideration before committing to an intermodal shipment.

Guaranteed Delivery Window?

Something else to keep in mind is that any shipments that require a guaranteed delivery date and or time, would certainly not be a good fit for moving via intermodal. Again, because rail and dray schedules are not set in stone and each require a varying amount of flexibility in order to be effective.

These three areas are some of the most common topics that could lead to arguments against moving freight via intermodal. These topics aren’t highlighted to discourage anyone from using intermodal transportation, but instead to help interested customers make the best decision of whether they would be a good fit for the mode and increase greater opportunities for success. We are a team and we all want our customers to be successful, and important keys to success are intelligence and savviness.

As always, please reach out to your Trinity Intermodal Team for any intermodal rail related questions that you may have, no question is too small to ask. We are happy to assist you with any related situations that you may encounter. Happy shipping!

If you think intermodal shipping is for you, fill out our “Get a Quote” form today!