When to Use Truckload vs Intermodal Freight Shipping

For shippers with enough freight to fill an entire truck, whether to transport using truckload vs intermodal is becoming a growing consideration, especially for long hauls. Intermodal transport using rail is growing in popularity due to cost savings, fuel efficiency, reduced carbon emissions, and potential speed to delivery advantages.

Despite the potential advantages of intermodal transport in some cases, truckload may still be the best option in others. In this article we will review truckload vs. intermodal and outline the advantages of each. 

What is Truckload Shipping?

Truckload shipping, or FTL shipping, is commonly used by shippers who have enough freight to fill more than half of a standard truck and prefer to have their goods transported without being mixed with other shipper’s freight.

FTL allows shippers to have their freight picked up and delivered without extra stops en route and without extra handling.

What is Intermodal Shipping?

Commonly used for international and cross-country shipments, intermodal shipping can combine truck, rail, and sea transport to move goods via shipping containers.

Intermodal is not just for international freight, however. For cross-country or other long distance domestic freight, intermodal using truck and rail can be a cost and time saver. If your freight can fit into a container, it can be moved between truck and rail with ease.

As a rule of thumb, if domestic freight needs to travel 700 miles or more, intermodal using rail should be considered.

Intermodal Containers 

Intermodal containers vary in size depending on what form of transport will be used. International shipments use intermodal containers that are 20 or 40 feet in length while domestic intermodal containers are 53 feet in length. International freight may be transferred from one container to another during its transit, commonly at a cross-docking point.

Domestic freight containers may be moved directly between truck and rail. 

Benefits of Intermodal Transport

Expanded Capacity

For shippers that typically rely on truckload shipping for long-haul transport, including rail in the mix means that they have more options to move their freight. If truck transport is not readily available for the entire journey, using intermodal in combination with rail can fill the gap.

Rail provides consistency

Using intermodal rail allows shippers to be more predictive with pickup and delivery times since trains run on a schedule. 

Rail avoids traffic

When speed is a factor, rail bypasses the typical traffic concerns that truckloads have to contend with since they are on their own track without interference. This allows shippers to be more accurate when scheduling final delivery.

Intermodal rail is much more fuel efficient

Rail is three to four times more fuel-efficient than trucks. In fact, rail is the most fuel-efficient way to move freight domestically, using only one gallon of fuel to move one ton of freight nearly 500 miles. This means that a single freight train can replace several hundred trucks! For shippers that are environmentally conscious, using rail is a way to reduce their carbon emissions.

Rail is more cost-effective

Besides the extreme fuel cost advantages of rail, intermodal provides a distinct margin enhancing benefit for shippers as rail allows shipping containers to be “double stacked.” One engine can now move even more containers without adding to the length of the train. For shippers moving very large amounts of freight, using intermodal rail can provide a major cost savings benefit.

Benefits of Truckload Transport

Truckload transport has benefits for both short- and long-haul freight. 

Less Cargo Handling

First, for shippers that have enough freight to fill a truckload, the security of knowing that the goods are all on one truck, and will not be removed and placed on another truck before it reaches its final destination provides peace of mind. This also makes it easy to track exactly where the shipment is during transit.

Urgent Truckload Availability

When speed is required and a truck is immediately available, using truckload freight may be the better option compared to intermodal rail which requires delivery to a railcar and then loading for transport and then unloading back onto another truck for final delivery.

Proximity to a Rail Hub

If the shipper’s freight is not located near a rail hub or if there is not a hub along the route to the final destination, truckload may be the only viable option. 

Learn more about when to use FTL shipping.

Benefits of Intermodal Freight Companies

Working with a freight company that handles intermodal shipments makes it easier for shippers to use the most efficient method possible to transport their freight, eliminating the guesswork out of the truckload vs. intermodal question. Intermodal freight companies have the network resources to schedule both first and last mile truckload segments along with rail transport from point of pickup to point of delivery making it that much easier for shippers to have it all taken care of through one point of contact.

Shippers that schedule their own truckload pickup and then transfer to rail have to contend with multiple points of contact, scheduling complexities, and the stresses of tracking the shipment during transit. 

By using an intermodal freight company, shippers can move their freight with greater confidence and less concern.

On Track Intermodal Rail Shipping & Logistics

Let us do the planning for you! On Track Freight Systems are experts in truckload and intermodal rail shipping and logistics. We have the experience to arrange the transportation of your freight in the most cost effective and efficient manner, giving you confidence that your pickup, transit and delivery will go smoothly. 

Contact the On Track Freight Systems team of brokers today to get your freight On Track with our intermodal solutions.

Contact On Track today to request your free shipping quote.