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What is Intermodal Shipping?

What is Intermodal Shipping?

Even though intermodal shipping might sound confusing, it is a simple way of describing the process of hauling freight, usually over long distances, while using two or more means of transportation. Sending your freight from NJ to Chicago on a train and then from Chicago to Milwaukee on a truck would be an example of intermodal transportation. In this article, we will further discuss the definition of intermodal shipping, the benefits of intermodal transportation, some intermodal port locations, and more. If you are looking for extra capacity in a tight freight market, or trying to find a cost-saving shipping option for your business, intermodal shipping might be the right answer for you. For help with intermodal shipping, contact Heavy Weight Transport today!

Intermodal Shipping

Intermodal carriers

Intermodal shipping is the term described to use the process of moving freight by two or more modes of transportation. Though it can seem as though intermodal shipping is more complicated than other kinds of transportation due to its multiple parts, it is actually no more difficult than any other kind of shipping. 

Generally, intermodal shipping falls into one of two categories: international intermodal shipping or domestic intermodal shipping. Trains are usually used for the long-haul part of a domestic intermodal shipping. Trucks are then used to pick up the freight from the point of origin, and then pick up the freight from the destination ramp and take it to the customer. This portion of intermodal shipping is referred to as drayage. 

International Intermodal Shipping

Typically, international intermodal shipments travel in 20 or 40-foot ocean containers. As the shipments go between ships, trucks, and trains, the goods stay in the same container for the duration of its transport. This is accomplished by hauling freight on empty chassis. 

Domestic Intermodal Shipping

Domestic intermodal shipments, on the other hand, usually travel in 53-foot containers. Though the term is ‚Äúdomestic‚ÄĚ intermodal, sometimes products do arrive from overseas. They are then transferred to 53-foot domestic containers before traveling to inland destinations.¬†

What is an Example of Intermodal Shipping?

A standard example of intermodal shipping is rail, truck, ship, then truck. The truck transport used between the train terminals and ocean ports is a specialized form of trucking referred to as ‚Äúdrayage.‚Ä̬†

How Does Intermodal Shipping Work?

Let’s break down the process of domestic intermodal shipping. 


First, products are loaded onto a container that is sitting on a truck chassis. Then, the truck hauls the container to an intermodal ramp. As mentioned earlier, this part of the process involving the truck is referred to as drayage. Once the container arrives at the intermodal ramp, the container is lifted off the chassis. 

Long Haul

The intermodal container is then put on a flat car well or well car, so it can ship by train for the long haul. 


Once the container arrives at another intermodal ramp, is it put back in another truck for delivery to its final destination. 

Benefits of Intermodal Transportation 

Intermodal shipping

If you are considering utilizing intermodal transportation for your company, you are probably wondering how it can help your business overall. There are several benefits of intermodal transportation. 

Cost Effective

The first benefit of intermodal transportation is that it can save you money. It often offers lower rates, more predictable pricing, and reduced handling costs due to the flexibility of loading and unloading goods in a dropped trailer environment. 

Friendly to the Environment

Another benefit of intermodal transportation is that it is environmentally friendly. It is a great way to reduce your company’s carbon footprint. This is because trains emit much less carbon dioxide than trucks. Trucks emit about 19.8 pounds of carbon dioxide per 100 ton-miles, and trains only emit about 5.4 pounds of carbon dioxide per 100 ton-miles. 

Reliability and Streamlining

Intermodal transportation is a more reliable and oftentimes more streamlined way of shipping for many businesses. This helps save money and time in the long run. 


Because your products stay enclosed in the intermodal containers, even as they are transferred between modes of transportation, your products safety is ensured during intermodal shipping. No one directly handles the contents of the containers. This safety is key for many who choose to use intermodal shipping for their business. 

Can I Use Intermodal Shipping for my Business?

Intermodal shipping is an excellent option for almost any business that utilizes shipping. You can use intermodal shipping for almost any possible products your business produces. Even if your business or the destination of your products is not located anywhere near train tracks, that’s okay because trucks can handle it for you. Intermodal shipping works well for a wide variety of companies. 

Is Intermodal Shipping Right for Me?

Here are a few ways to know that intermodal shipping might be right for your business: 

  • It works best for intermediate and finished goods in load units of less than 25 tons;¬†
  • The longer the distance your product needs to travel, the more likely it is that intermodal shipping is the right decision. (For example, freight traveling more than 300 miles, or longer than one day by truck, is a great candidate for intermodal shipping.)¬†
  • Cargo with intermediate values; and
  • If your cargo flow is continuous and needs to continue in similar quantities each time.¬†

What Products Can Be Transported in Intermodal Shipping? 

Virtually any product that can travel in an intermodal container can be shipped via intermodal shipping. Anything from electronics, to home goods, and even diapers can be shipped with intermodal transportation! 

Intermodal Port Locations 

An intermodal port is a location that has the ability to ship, receive, or transload between a combination of trucks, rails, barges, ships, and even planes, in some instances. Most intermodal ports, sometimes also referred to as intermodal terminals, are based around major maritime gateways, like New York and Los Angeles. Some other inland intermodal port locations include Chicago, Illinois; Memphis, Tennessee; and Kansas City, Missouri. In the United States, there are about 2,270 rail facilities that perform some kind of intermodalism. 

Intermodal Trucking in Memphis, TN 

If you need assistance with intermodal trucking, or drayage, in Memphis, Tennessee, you can contact us at Heavy Weight Transport.