What is Intermodal Shipping and Why is It the Future of Freight?

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What is Intermodal Shipping?

Intermodal shipping has been a thing for many years, but over the past five years, it has gained major recognition and awareness as the future of freight transportation. The term “intermodal” refers to the movement of goods using multiple modes of transportation such as truck, rail, ship, and air. Intermodal shipping has several advantages over traditional transport methods – one of the major reasons governments, shipping companies, and businesses have invested heavily in this area.

What are the advantages of intermodal shipping?

Intermodal shipping is a popular option for shippers and businesses that need to move large quantities of goods over long distances. There are numerous advantages to intermodal transportation, but below are the major ones:

  • It’s cost-effective: Intermodal shipping is usually cheaper than trucking because it allows for larger loads, which reduces the cost per-unit. Additionally, because intermodal shipping uses different modes of transportation, it can be more cost-effective by providing more possible service options and therefore, fee options.
  • It’s more efficient: Intermodal shipping is more efficient than traditional trucking because it uses a combination of transportation modes. This means that goods can be moved faster, reducing delivery times and improving customer satisfaction. At the end of the day, it’s a win-win for all parties involved.
  • It can be more environmentally-friendly: Intermodal shipping can be a more sustainable option than traditional trucking because it reduces the number of trucks on the road, which reduces emissions and carbon footprint. Additionally, intermodal shipping uses more fuel-efficient modes of transportation like railroads, which do not have to sit in standstill traffic in the event of road accidents, etc.

What are the different types of intermodal shipping?

Intermodal shipping can be classified into different types depending on the modes of transportation used. Here are some of the most common types of intermodal shipping:

  • Truck-rail: This is the most common type of intermodal shipping, and it involves using trucks to move goods to and from rail terminals.
  • Rail-ship: This type of intermodal shipping involves moving goods from rail terminals to ports where they are loaded onto ships for long-distance transportation.
  • Truck-ship: This type of intermodal shipping involves using trucks to transport goods to ports where they are loaded onto ships for long-distance transportation.

What are the big challenges of using intermodal shipping?

While intermodal shipping has several advantages, it also has its challenges. Some of the most common challenges come in areas that could be fixed with more investment into intermodal infrastructure and staff, such as:

  • Lack of Infrastructure: Intermodal shipping requires adequate infrastructure, including rail terminals, ports, and intermodal yards. Lack of infrastructure can lead to congestion and delays. In recent years, governments have invested more resources into new intermodal terminals, which has helped, but more investments are needed.
  • Coordination Challenges: Intermodal shipping involves multiple parties, including carriers, ports, and terminals. Coordination between these parties can be challenging, leading to delays and miscommunications. Investing in intermodal-specific workforces within railroad companies, shipping companies, etc. can help mitigate these issues.
  • Security: Intermodal shipping can be vulnerable to theft and other security issues, especially when goods are being transported by multiple modes of transportation and stored in rail yards, for example.

The Future of Intermodal Shipping

Despite its challenges, intermodal shipping is the future of freight transportation. Originally, the global intermodal market was expected to grow annually almost 17% between 2020 and 2025. Supply chain issues during and after the Covid pandemic may accelerate this growth, by allowing more resources to be invested into the future of the supply chain. With new investments made by state and local governments, as well as Congress, intermodal transportation is expected to grow quicker.

Additionally, the growth of e-commerce and globalization is driving the demand for intermodal shipping, and businesses that don’t adapt risk falling behind, as rail becomes a wider-used medium of transportation for goods.

Intermodal is cost-effective, efficient, and one big part of the future of shipping.

Intermodal shipping is a cost-effective, efficient, and environmentally-friendly way to transport goods over long distances. While it has its challenges, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. As the demand for intermodal shipping continues to grow, businesses that adopt intermodal within their transportation strategy will be better positioned to compete in the 21st-century economy.