Shipping Heavy Equipment By Rail – Understanding The Basics

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Shipping Heavy Equipment By Rail – Understanding The Basics
Shipping Heavy Equipment By Rail – Understanding The Basics

If you need to ship heavy equipment and you’re exploring your options for cost-effective transportation, you may be considering using rail shipping rather than using a flatbed truck. But is shipping heavy equipment by rail a good idea? What can you expect if you choose this shipment method? In this guide from A-1 Auto Transport, we’ll discuss everything you need to know, and help you decide if shipping heavy equipment by rail is a good choice for you.

How Does Shipping Heavy Equipment By Rail Work? 

The process of shipping heavy equipment by rail is fairly easy to understand. You find a rail carrier willing to ship your vehicle, transport it to a freight station, and have it loaded onto a train. Then, it will be shipped to your destination. Depending on the end destination for your shipment, you may also need to hire a flatbed truck for last-mile shipping from the rail freight station.

Shipping heavy equipment by rail is actually quite common. While it’s rare to find a rail shipper willing to ship smaller vehicles like cars and pickup trucks individually, heavy-duty equipment is large, bulky, and ideal for shipping on a flatbed rail car.

In most cases, flatbed rail cars are the best method for shipping heavy equipment by rail, unless you’re shipping smaller pieces of machinery that can fit in a standard cargo container. These rail cars are similar to the flatbeds you’d find on a tractor-trailer, though they’re usually a bit larger. 

It’s sometimes possible to fit two pieces of heavy equipment onto a single flatbed rail car – but in most cases, you’ll only be able to fit one piece of machinery per flatbed car, so you should prepare accordingly.

Why Should I Use Rail Shipping For Heavy Equipment?

Rail shipping for heavy equipment can sometimes be cheaper than using a flatbed and a tractor-trailer. Though this is not always the case, it’s always a good idea to check the price of shipping your equipment by rail, because you could save a significant amount of time and money, in some cases.

As mentioned in the previous section, rail shipping is not common for small private vehicles like cars and trucks, because it’s not cost-effective. But heavy and bulky machinery is much more common, because trains are much more suitable for shipping extremely heavy loads, including oversize loads.

However, it’s important to note that rail shipping for heavy equipment is not always cheaper than simply hiring a freight shipping company to ship your equipment using a tractor-trailer and a flatbed. The cost depends on how near you are to major rail shipping points, the route your equipment will take, and a variety of other factors. 

It’s a good idea to consider both rail shipping and overland shipping with a truck, and compare the cost, timeframe, and other benefits of each method.

How Much Will It Cost To Ship My Heavy Equipment By Rail? 

The cost will be different for each shipment. There are a number of factors that can affect how much you’ll pay to ship your equipment, such as overall weight and dimensions, whether or not it’s an oversize load, how far it’s being shipped, and more. Let’s take a deeper look at these factors now.

  • Weight & dimensions – Depending on the size of your machinery and equipment, you may need one or more flatbed rail cars. Each flatbed has a set maximum weight capacity, so even if you could fit multiple pieces of equipment on a single flatbed, they may need to be split up if they exceed this capacity.
  • Oversize load – Oversize load fees are not as high in rail transport as they are in trucking, but oversize loads still require specialized rail cars and precautions. Typically, each rail transport company has a different definition of an oversize load, so you can get further details about oversize loads when getting a quote.
  • Distance of shipment – Just like any other transportation method, the cost of shipping your heavy equipment by rail is significantly affected by the distance of your shipment.
  • Border crossing – Sending equipment to Canada or Mexico will bring additional customs fees and other costs, so make sure to inquire about these costs when getting a quote from a rail transport provider.
  • Additional freight services – If you cannot transport your equipment to the rail freight station yourself or retrieve it from the destination rail freight station, you’ll need to factor in the cost of hiring a flatbed truck to ship your equipment to and from the rail station.

How Long Does It Take To Ship Heavy Equipment By Rail? 

In most cases, it will take slightly longer to ship heavy equipment by rail than it would take to ship a piece of machinery directly using a truck and a flatbed. The reason for this is that trains operate on a fixed schedule – and they are not a “point-to-point” delivery system, unlike a truck.

In other words, with rail shipping, you must first ship your equipment to the freight station, have it loaded onto the train, then have it unloaded at its destination. And once it arrives at the final freight station, you’ll have to hire a last-mile shipping company to haul it to the final destination. 

In contrast, a truck can pick your equipment up at the site of your choice, load it, drive to the destination, and unload it. This leads to faster overall transit time since there is less downtime and the truck can load your equipment at your specified pick-up and drop-off point.

However, if time is not a serious concern, rail shipping is still a great option. Because trains run on set schedules, the estimated shipping time for your heavy equipment is much more accurate, and it will always be delivered to its destination on time. And, as mentioned above, transporting heavy equipment by rail is very cost-effective – particularly for very large, bulky, and oversize loads. 

Shipping Heavy Equipment By Rail

Want To Ship Heavy Equipment By Rail? Contact A-1 Auto Transport Now 

At A-1 Auto Transport, we specialize in intermodal shipping. We can help you transport heavy equipment by rail, by truck, and even internationally with maritime transport. If you’re interested in learning more, give us a call at (800) 452-2880 to speak to an agent now, and explore your shipping options for heavy equipment. 

Joe Webster
Written By:Joe Webster
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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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