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Advantages of Intermodal Shipping

What's in this article?
  1. What Is Intermodal Shipping?
  2. Differences Between Intermodal Transport And Multimodal Transport
  3. Types Of Intermodal Transport
  4. Cofc Or Container On Flat Car
  5. Tofc Or Trailer On Flat Car
  6. Advantages Of Intermodal Transport
  7. 1 Choice Of Carrier
  8. 2 Cost Savings
  9. 3 Positive Environmental Impact
  10. 4 Improved Security
  11. 5 Improved Carrying Capacity
  12. 6 Fewer Disruptions
  13. 7 Increased Flexibility
  14. 8 Reduced Cargo Handling Delays
  15. Should You Use Intermodal Shipping?
  16. 1) When You Need High Freight Capacity
  17. 2) For Long-Distance Freight Shipments
  18. 3) When Shipping Low-Value Or Medium-Value Goods
  19. 4) For Door-To-Door Delivery
  20. 5) If Sustainability Is Part Of Your Company's Ethos
  21. Downsides Of Intermodal Transport
  22. It's Slow
  23. Heavy-Duty Pieces Of Equipment Are Required
  24. Conclusion
Advantages of Intermodal Shipping

By 2026, the intermodal shipping market is predicted to exceed 36 billion dollars. This shows the increased importance of intermodal transport to freight shipping worldwide.

Many shippers prefer to use intermodal freight shipping because of its many advantages. Knowing these advantages is essential to deciding whether it's the perfect choice for your business operation. What's perfect for others might not be for you.

In this article, we'll cover what intermodal transport is, its many advantages, and how to decide whether to use it or not.

What Is Intermodal Shipping?

Intermodal shipping, or intermodal freight transport, refers to the transportation of goods or cargo movement using multiple modes of transportation. This type of shipping requires contracts with different transport providers and freight forwarders for the cargo to reach its destination.

For example, let's say you want to move cargo from the USA to Italy. In this case, a truck may bring you an empty shipping container; you fill it with your cargo and then carry it to the train station. Then a train takes it from there to the port.

Once it arrives at the port, it's loaded unto the ship and transported to Italy. Finally, a truck picks it up from the port, and it's transported by road transport to its final location.

From this example, you can see how several modes of transport are involved in the process.

One thing that's key to the success of intermodal transport is containerization. This is the use of standard intermodal containers created per International Organization for Standardization (ISO) guidelines. This allows a single container to be seamlessly transferred from one form of transport to another.

Differences between intermodal transport and multimodal transport

Although most people use them interchangeably, intermodal and multimodal transport refer to two different things.

The difference is that while multimodal transport needs just one contract with one logistics provider (regardless of the number of modes of transportation involved), intermodal transport proceeds with different contracts for different logistics providers.

To better explain this, let's use an example.

Say a company wants to transport cargo from the USA to Canada. If they decide to use multimodal transport, they must find a single logistics provider that will handle the transportation from the USA to Canada.

This means they'll sign a single contract with the carrier, who will mobilize their transportation network to ensure that they get the cargo to the final destination, even if it means using different modes of transportation.

But with intermodal transport, the company will have separate contracts with the different operators of the different modes of transportation they'll be using.

This means there will be a separate contract for the truck taking the cargo to the railway station, a separate one for the train taking it to the port, and a separate one for the ship carrying it to Canada.


Types of Intermodal Transport

The types of intermodal transport include:

COFC or Container on Flat Car

In this case, four containers are double-stacked upon a single well car. This means that with COFC, more containers are loaded per trip.

However, due to the height clearance of some bridges, TOFC is sometimes preferable.

TOFC or Trailer on Flat Car

This is also known as the piggyback method. In this case, an over-the-road (OTR) trailer is placed on top of a flat car.

Although most rail routes are compatible with TOFC, COFC is mostly preferred because it carries more containers per trip.

Advantages of Intermodal Transport

The advantages of intermodal transport include:

1. Choice of carrier

When it comes to the transportation of goods, trust is highly needed. One untrustworthy person along the chain can cause massive disruptions. So, choosing a carrier yourself increases trust.

With intermodal transport, you can choose the carrier you desire. It's perfect for business people, logistics providers, or freight forwarders, who tend to have a huge network stretching across different regions.

This also makes it easier to track cargo until it reaches its final destination.

2. Cost savings

When using intermodal transport, one can decide to maximize rail transport. This reduces costs in two ways:

1) Reduced spending on fuel: The fuel costs for rail transport are significantly lower than other forms of transport. So, using rail transport substantially reduces transportation costs on an intermodal shipment.

2) Decreased cost per ton: For rail transport, the cost per ton is very low compared to truckload shipping and shipping costs.

However, it's important to note that the cost savings offered by intermodal transport depend on the length of the haul and the distance of the shipper/consignee from the rail ramps. The longer the distance, the better. Cost savings can range from 10% to as high as 40%.

3. Positive environmental impact

The positive environmental impact of intermodal transport is primarily due to rail transport. It is environmentally sustainable in three ways:

1) Rail transport has a higher fuel efficiency because it takes only 1 gallon of fuel to move a ton of cargo 470 miles by rail. That's impossible with other forms of transportation.

2) The carbon footprint associated with rail transport is lower than other forms of transportation.

3) Shipping goods by air or sea produces harmful greenhouse gases. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA) says that rail is between 1.5 and 5 times more energy-efficient than trucking, and the same is true for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

4. Improved security

Since most intermodal transport involves trains, intermodal transport improves cargo safety.

One reason is that a train never stops behind a secured intermodal ramp. This makes it harder for thieves to access high-value freight during transport.

Also, the levels of security at train terminals are at a maximum. The railroad police consistently monitor terminals and rail tracks to ensure safety.

Second, since the cargo is transported in CTUs, no one has direct access to the cargo itself. So, it's difficult for it to get stolen.

Lastly, accidents are less likely to happen on trains than on the road. In the whole of 2020, there were only 1331 rail accidents in the whole of Europe, according to Eurostat.

All these reduce the chance of damage to cargo during transport.


5. Improved carrying capacity

Intermodal freight transport has greater capacity than other forms of shipping.

It allows for the shipment of larger loads, which means that you don't need to hire extra trucks or vans.

This is especially useful when transporting heavy machinery or oversized equipment. And it further eliminates transport disruptions by driver shortages or truck shortages.

6. Fewer disruptions

Intermodal transport doesn't disrupt your business like other modes of transportation do.

For instance, driver shortages sometimes occur due to strikes and health emergencies such as the covid pandemic. In such a situation, you can use intermodal transport (rail transport in particular) since one train carries more load and weight in a single trip than truck drivers do.

7. Increased flexibility

Intermodal transport increases flexibility.

You can choose the mode of transport you want to use. Also, the pricing is flexible since you're using different carriers and contracts. You can negotiate based on your budget.

8. Reduced cargo handling delays

Since the cargo is sealed in cargo transport units (CTUs) such as containers, mobile boxes, or semi-trailers, delays due to customs inspection are significantly lower.

Should You Use Intermodal Shipping?

How do you decide when to use intermodal transport?

Just like other forms of transport, intermodal isn't perfect for every situation. So, when is intermodal transport the best freight shipping option to use?

1) When you need high freight capacity

Intermodal transport has a high capacity. So, when the cargo you're transporting is large, it's best to use intermodal transport. This allows you to save time and money.

2) For long-distance freight shipments

Intermodal transport is perfect for transportation across long distances, typically above 750 miles. For example, it is perfect for transporting cargo between two countries.

Since it's cheaper, using intermodal transport will reduce the cost.

3) When shipping low-value or medium-value goods

Because of the frequent stops along the way, intermodal transport is not the best option for high-value shipments. Instead, high-value shipments require a direct transportation route, such as air freight.

But if you are shipping low- or medium-value goods, intermodal transport will work perfectly.

4) For door-to-door delivery

Intermodal freight transportation is perfect for situations where the load must be delivered at the recipient's doorstep.

That's because, with intermodal transport, you can use different modes of transportation until the load is delivered.

5) If sustainability is part of your company's ethos

If your company values sustainability and carbon footprint reduction, then intermodal freight transportation is the perfect solution.

Downsides of Intermodal Transport

It's slow

Due to unloading and loading, intermodal transport is usually slow. And since there's rarely a direct route, the frequent stops make it slow.

Heavy-duty pieces of equipment are required

An empty container weighs at least 1.8 metric tons, so it's impossible to load and unload it manually.

It takes equipment such as forklifts, cranes, etc., to handle them. This makes intermodal transport capital intensive.


Intermodal transportation is beneficial in many ways, and it may be the right solution for your company's shipping needs.

If you need to transport your cargo using intermodal transport, contact us at A-1 Auto Transport today. We have decades of experience with intermodal transport and would be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Contact us any time for a free quote.

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Joe Webster began his journey in the auto transport field by attending the University of Southern California (USC), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Marketing. 

After college, he started his career in the auto transport industry from the bottom up and has done virtually every job there is to do at A-1 Auto Transport, including but not limited to: Truck Driver, Dispatch, Sales, PR, Bookkeeping, Transport Planner, Transport Manager, International Transport Manager, Brokering, Customer Service, and Marketing. Working with his mentor Tony Taylor, Joe Webster has learned the ins and outs of this industry which is largely misunderstood. 

With over 30 years experience in the industry, we've been helping people ship their vehicles, motorcycles, RV's, heavy equipment, household goods and more across the country or overseas without a hitch. Ask us anything.

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Mylene Rutllant
It’s my number one pick in auto shipping to this day.

Due to the nature of my work, I must relocate every couple of years to where my company needs me. Because of this, I’ve tested several moving and auto transport companies over the years.

And my choice in terms of auto transport has to be A1 Auto Transport. It’s in the name, but also in the quality with which they do their jobs. I’ve never had a problem with this company.

The only time my shipment was delayed was during winter when a snowstorm closed down all the major roads. And they still found an alternative and got my car delivered before roads got unstuck.

When I moved to West Virginia, they picked up my car the very day I called them. I like to think they take special care of me considering all the business I’ve sent them. I’ll continue to support A1 Auto Transport. It’s my number one pick in auto shipping to this day.

Luis Rodriguez
You have my full support and recommendation!

I considered selling my car when I moved to Washington. It was old and rusty, but I grew attached to it. So, I called a couple companies to transport it to my new home, but they both fell through.

The first one couldn’t decide on a schedule. He would constantly change the pickup date till I got frustrated and canceled. The second was insufferable, very rude on the phone, even worse in person.

They started picking a part my car asking me why I still have it. If that’s their opinion of my vehicle, how can I trust they’ll take care of it? If something happened midway, why wouldn’t they just blame it on the car instead of paying up?

So, I cancelled this company as well and turned to A1 Auto Transport. From the get go, they were very different from my past options. Their website was very professional and up to date, full of useful information. I requested a quote using their online form, and I got an email response within an hour. Surprisingly fast!

If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought they were lacking customers, but the email spoke for itself. In just one email, everything I needed to know was there, including a contact number I could use to get more information or confirm the transport.

I called and got things rolling. I was very pleased with the driver. He followed standard procedure and represented his company well. Can’t remember his name, but props to him!

The car arrived in Washington 6 days later in excellent condition. From what I understand, the transport was delayed a bit by a storm, but since the time window was 4-6 days from the beginning, I don’t really care. You have my full support and recommendation!

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There are a lot of options for auto transport these days, which surprisingly makes it harder to find a good company. I received more than 10 offers to ship my car, but I couldn’t decide on any of them.

After doing some research, I got even more worried reading about all the scams and accidents that can happen. But, I have work to do and couldn’t afford to drive my newly purchased Mini Cooper all the way to Virginia.

Fortunately, I made the right choice with A1 Auto Transport. They are very good at their jobs. I spent more than an hour drilling Joe with various questions, and he never once lost his patience. He saw I was interested, so he bore with me until I was satisfied. The driver was also very courteous and my car was intact on arrival. I couldn’t have asked for more.

By the way, the price we first agreed on stayed the same. There were no delays or unexpected “surprises.” I can safely say this is a legit company that will get the job done.

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We give A1 Auto Transport a big 10 out of 10! We chose them to move our car from California to Vermont, since we needed professionals.

We were abroad during the transport, so the transport was a bit tricky. The driver had to pick it up from storage on short notice and get it to its destination within at most 10 days. I was happy to note it arrived sooner. We got it 3 days early, right when we got home to pick it up. It made getting around way easier. Awesome service!

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A-1 Auto Transport is a disclosed agent for the following shipping companies:

Trans Global Auto Logistics, Inc.
3401 E Randol Mill Rd
Arlington, TX 76011
NO. 018191NF
CFR Rinkens
15501 Texaco Avenue
Paramount, CA 90723
NO. 013055NF
ABC Worldwide LLC
2840 NW 2nd Ave #105
Boca Raton, FL 33431
NO. 025472F
CSI Logistics
435 Division Street
Elizabeth, NJ 07201
FMC 22206
Intl Cargo
45 Campus drive
Edison, NJ 08837
NO. 17858N
ShipYourCarNow LLC
1160 South Rogers Circle Suite 1
Boca Raton, FL 33487
NO. 025646
Merco Air & Ocean Cargo, Inc.
6 Fir Way
Cooper City, FL 33026
NO. 021869F
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