If the freight world has anything in common with the fashion industry, it’s that trends come and go… and then come back again. Intermodal freight is making a comeback, and this time it’s here to stay. If you don’t know much (or anything) about intermodal freight options for your LTL shipments, you should. This is everything that you need to know about intermodal freight and its glorious comeback, so you can stay with the times and even save some money on your LTL shipping.
Intermodal freight utilizes multiple freight infrastructures to make its way across the country (or world): truck and rail, rail and ocean, truck and ocean, or all of the above. In the realm of U.S. LTL freight, intermodal almost always refers to the joint use of trucks and railroads. The problem is that anything involving the railroad made things tricky: intermodal freight generally gets a bad rap for being slow and inefficient. The rail network that was once the industrious backbone of the American freight industry fell behind motor freight services and subsequently became outdated and too slow to keep up.
But, who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? The rail industry has made great strides re-inventing itself by investing heavily in new information technologies and updating existing infrastructure. The result has made intermodal transportation an attractive shipping option once again. John Lanigan of BNSF Railway comments: “Twenty years ago, shippers perceived intermodalism as unreliable. Over time, their concerns have been erased.” Now intermodal transport is growing and picking up efficiencies that make it a viable player in the LTL shipping world.
The fact is, capacity shortages resulting from new freight regulations will make LTL shipping via motor freight far more expensive in the coming years. Using intermodal rail for long-haul shipments is cheaper, better for the environment and has virtually unrestricted capacity. With truck drivers in short supply, intermodal may well save the day, according to Scott Webb of NFI Intermodal: “We can handle six times as many truckloads as we could over the road, using the same number of drivers.”
It gets better. Speed is no longer the issue it once was with the railroad. The upgraded technologies on rail corridors have helped close the gap between rail and road transit times and made it a far more reliable service. Certain corridors offer expedited rail, which is either equal to, or faster than, over-the-road transit. The takeaway here is that intermodal freight is not what it used to be—with improved efficiencies and technology, it now makes sense to include intermodal for long-distance LTL shipments.
It’s time to re-evaluate your LTL shipping practices. Review your shipments and where they’re going: are you making repeat long-distance shipments where you stand to save if you include intermodal in your freight portfolio? With intermodal freight services, you will need to plan ahead, but one extra day in freight delivery time could save you a ton of money in the long run. If you’re still unsure about relying entirely on rail transportation, consider allocating just a few shipments at a time to intermodal and see how it compares to its over-the-road counterpart. FreightorGator wants your LTL shipping experience to be as easy and cheap as it should be. At FreightorGator, we partner with several intermodal carriers because we recognize it’s making a comeback that could benefit you as an LTL shipper.