Mastering Intermodal Shipments: How to Propel Your Supply Chain Forward

LTL shipping concept

Intermodal freight transport involves moving goods using multiple transport methods—rail, ship, and truck—without directly handling the freight when changing modes. Of course, finding the right blend of logistics solutions is not always clear-cut and dry. 

Remember that intermodal leverages the strengths of various transport modes for greater efficiency and cost savings. 

Demand also changes based on market conditions. Consider this. Inbound Logistics states, “Domestic loads were low at the end of 2019 and into the spring of 2020. Following stimulus legislation, however, volumes took off for the rest of 2020 well into 2021.” Let’s take a closer look at how to master intermodal shipping. 

What Is Intermodal Freight Transport?

Intermodal transport refers to moving goods in the same unit or vehicle using multiple modes. This is simple, but the contracts may vary. Containers packed with cargo are easily transferred between modes. This may include ships, trains, and trucks. The trick is providing a streamlined and efficient shipping approach.

Benefits of Intermodal Transport

Reduced transport costs, improved security, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, and less highway congestion are core goals of all intermodal transportation solutions. These stand out among the numerous advantages of intermodal transport, making it an attractive option for businesses aiming to enhance supply chain operations. Of course, there could literally be a whole book written on its benefits, but what does it entail?

Critical Components of Intermodal Shipments

Intermodal trains are the backbone of the intermodal shipping industry. Rail transport offers long-haul capacity and efficiently moves large volumes of freight. Railroads are highly cost-efficient too. Double-stacked containers maximize rail logistics. This is a method popularized by companies like Union Pacific in North America.

Intermodal trucks provide the critical link between rail terminals and final destinations. They deliver goods to locations not directly served by rail or water, completing the intermodal shipping process. 

Full truckload and less-than-truckload options offer flexibility for freight, accommodating various shipment sizes.

Containers are also important to intermodal logistics. Containers are standardized, reusable steel boxes that transport goods securely. 

Designed for easy transfer between different transport modes, they are essential to the intermodal shipping process. These are comparable to dry vans in OTR. 

Intermodal equipment options are essentially another service that the right logistics provider will help you define. 

Advantages of Using Intermodal Freight Transport

Intermodal comes with strong advantages and benefits.

  • Intermodal freight transport leverages the efficiency of each mode. For example, it combines the flexibility and local reach of trucking, the long-distance efficiency of rail, and the international reach of shipping. This multimodal approach allows for more useful and cost-efficient solutions, catering to different aspects of the shipping process.
  • Longer distances traveled significantly reduce the carbon footprint of shipping. Using intermodal transport for long distances is more environmentally friendly compared to relying on a single mode, especially road transport. Modes like rail and large-scale shipping use less fuel per ton-mile, leading to lower greenhouse gas emissions. This makes intermodal transport a more sustainable choice, helping companies reduce their environmental impact and align with global greener goals.
  • Intermodal shipping offers greater capacity, as it can handle large volumes of cargo over various modes. Additionally, it provides flexibility in managing logistics. For instance, shippers can switch between trucks, trains, and ships based on cost, timing, or route efficiency. This adaptability is particularly beneficial in managing peak season demands and supply chain disruptions.
  • Intermodal is known because it depends on schedules and timelines. The structured nature of rail and ship schedules allows for better planning and certainty in delivery times. Is crucial for businesses that require precise timing for inventory management and just-in-time (JIT)  production processes, ensuring a more predictable supply chain.

Tips to Improve Intermodal Shipment Management

The right strategy for intermodal logistics depends on the careful selection of the right provider. That means that you need to have a few tips in your back pocket to make the right choice. This begins with managing relationships with rail operators, trucking companies, ocean carriers, and global services providers to ensure seamless transitions and maintain shipment integrity.

Shippers should also think about their schedules. Proper scheduling and synchronization of intermodal shipments are necessary to avoid bottlenecks and ensure goods arrive at their destination as planned. Lastly, they must use durable materials and proper lashings to reduce costs and delays too. 

Overcoming Challenges in Intermodal Shipments

Unforeseen delays can disrupt intermodal shipments, but proactive strategies can mitigate their impact. A few of these strategies include:

  1. Develop dynamic contingency plans and maintain constant communication with carriers. Keeping abreast of potential disruptions ensures quick response and minimizes shipment delays.
  2. Emphasize synchronized scheduling and standardized procedures. This approach ensures smoother transitions between different modes, reducing time loss and inefficiencies.
  3. Implement state-of-the-art tracking systems for real-time cargo monitoring. This boosts supply chain transparency, aids in inventory management, and enables accurate delivery predictions for customers.
  4. Cultivate robust partnerships with all stakeholders in the supply chain. Strong relationships with carriers, ports, and logistics providers can streamline processes and provide alternative solutions during disruptions.
  5. Adopt environmentally sustainable methods in intermodal logistics. This includes using eco-friendly modes and optimizing routes for fuel efficiency, which not only reduces the carbon footprint but also can lead to cost savings.
  6. Utilize data analytics to gain insights into shipment patterns, transit times, and carrier performance. Analyzing this data can help in making informed decisions, predicting future trends, and improving overall operational efficiency.

Improve Logistics Procurement and Handle Your Intermodal Shipments With LOTTE Global Logistics

Mastering intermodal shipments is critical to propelling supply chains forward with cost-savings and cost-avoidance measures that allow businesses to achieve greater efficiency, resilience, and competitiveness in the global marketplace. This includes understanding the tenants of intermodal transport and its challenges, the value and opportunities in its use, and a few extra considerations for making it successful. Request a quote from LOTTE Global Logistics to get started.