The Different Types of Freight: What to Know About Each

How to choose between the different types of freight options

Choosing the best way to ship your freight depends on several factors: the cargo being shipped, where it is shipping from and being delivered to, and the speed at which the freight needs to arrive at its destination.

In many cases, freight is moved using multiple methods, known as intermodal.

Types of Freight for Ground Transportation

Ground transportation moves freight by road or rail. Some ground transportation can take items directly from the pickup point to the destination, reducing time and handling of the cargo.

Road Freight – FTL Shipping

FTL shipping, or Full Truckload shipping, is the preferred method of transportation for shippers that need to move cargo on a specific schedule. Shippers take advantage of greater control of the shipment by designating pickup and delivery times. 

FTL shipping means that the shipper has the entire truck to themselves, limiting the number of times the truck has to stop on its journey and ensuring that the freight will not be combined with any other shipper’s.

FTL is desirable for shippers that:

  • Have a large amount of freight to ship
  • Want greater control over the scheduling of the pickup and delivery
  • Want the delivery to be made as quickly as possible
  • Do not want their freight mixed with other shipments 

FTL shipping can be cost-effective for shippers that have an entire truckload of freight to move, are shipping perishable or fragile items, or are shipping specialty items like oversized freight or dangerous goods requiring handling by experts.

Road Freight – LTL Shipping

LTL or Less Than Truckload shipping, is ground freight for smaller shippers that have as little as one pallet of freight move. LTL is advantageous for shippers that do not have to ship freight often or simply do not have large amounts to ship at one time.

LTL shipping can be very cost-effective since the transportation company will not require a full truckload and, instead, the freight will be combined with other shippers.

The disadvantage of LTL shipping is that it can take longer for the freight to arrive at its destination as the truck will likely have multiple stops along its journey, picking up and delivering other freight along the way. This means that the freight will experience more handling and possibly be moved from truck to truck versus staying on one truck the entire time, as in FTL shipping. 

LTL is great for dry goods and other items that do not require expedited delivery.  

Rail Freight

Rail freight is a great option for cargo that is traveling long distances, as it tends to cost less than ground truck transportation. Large items and large amounts of freight can be moved at one time. The rail shipping containers used are then either converted to truck ground transportation or ocean freight for international shipping. 

Depending on the urgency of the delivery, rail may be the way to go if speed is not as important. Rail freight does not offer the same pickup and delivery flexibility as truck freight scheduling, but does provide a cost advantage.

Rail is also a very safe and fuel-efficient mode of transportation.

Types of Freight for International Shipments

Air Freight

Air freight is used for both domestic and international freight.

Air freight is desirable for its speed, especially for international shipments. Shippers choose either commercial or charter air carriers for cargo that is perishable, for luxury goods, health or pharmaceuticals, and for expedited courier shipments. 

Online shoppers, for example, who purchase goods from overseas, will typically receive their items quickly, via air freight which is then transferred to a local ground courier. It is not unusual for high-end restaurants, for example, to order fresh seafood such as tuna or lobster that is caught, shipped, and delivered, same-day, via air freight.  

Air freight is a safe and advantageous option for cargo that requires fast delivery, but it is also the most expensive. On the flip side, the speed of transport provides the benefit of lower freight insurance premiums.

As an added bonus freight shipment security is high, especially for international shipments, due to travel through highly-secured airports. 

Ocean Freight

Ocean freight is desirable for moving international shipments due to its affordability and ability to move large items or large volumes of cargo at one time. Ocean freight generally requires cargo to be packaged in shipping containers which can be conveniently on-loaded and off-loaded using cranes. Shipping containers are made in standard sizes that are then converted into rail and truck transport for final delivery.

Freight costs are typically a flat rate per shipping container, making ocean freight advantageous for large or bulky items that can fit inside a container.

Ocean freight does offer LCL, or Less Than Container Load shipping, which is charged by the size of the cargo. LCL cargo will be combined with other cargo increasing the handling of the freight and potential for damage or missing items.

Ocean freight is not desirable for perishable cargo that requires quick consumption. It is best used for dry goods such as manufactured items, fuel, raw materials and non-perishable goods such as foods that have a longer shelf life.

Intermodal Freight

Intermodal logistics uses one or more of the above types of freight without changing the container. Intermodal is commonly used for shipping container cargo between ocean, rail and ground truck transportation routes. 

Intermodal is also used for air freight that typically moves its cargo to ground transportation or final delivery. 

The advantage to intermodal is the ability to move cargo efficiently between two points without having to handle the goods throughout the journey.

Choosing Your Freight Carrier

On Track provides ground truck transportation for FTL and LTL shipments. We specialize in recurring deliveries as well as one-time shipments. We can pick up and deliver next-day within the New York City/New Jersey area and have access to trucks for regional and long-haul national deliveries.

Contact On Track today to request your free LTL or FTL shipping quote.