What is Intermodal?

Intermodal is the long-haul movement of shipping containers and truck trailers by rail, combined with a (usually much shorter) truck movement at one or both ends. This shorter truck movement at each end is called drayage. Intermodal allows railroads, ocean carriers, trucking companies, and intermodal customers to take advantage of the best attributes of various transportation modes to yield an efficient and cost-effective overall freight movement. It is also often referred to as truck-rail-truck.

The Intermodal Network:

(Map credit to IANA, http://intermodal.org/resourcecenter/network.php)

As you can see, the North American intermodal network extends to nearly all parts of the United States, portions of Canada, and Mexico.

Knichel Logistics Intermodal Value Proposition:

Knichel Logistics is a true IMC (Intermodal Marketing Company). There are numerous benefits to working with an IMC, such as Knichel Logistics:

  • We possess rail contracts with all of the Class 1 Railroads in the U.S. and Canada, meaning that our customers have access to all of the North American intermodal network.
  • We have the ability to move shipments “ramp to ramp”, where we control the trucking on both ends.
  • Our competitors that are not IMC’s are subject to using door to door products, where the equipment owner/provider controls the container and the drayage.
  • Having the ability to deal directly with the origin and destination trucking companies that Knichel carefully selects, instead of working through a third party, allows us to provide more real-time status updates and to have better control over the “first and last mile” of the shipment, which are the most important parts of any shipment.
  • Knichel has extensive drayage relationships and a vast network of trusted carriers that we utilize daily.
  • We have contracts with the large national bi-modal providers.
    • (We are able to leverage the volume that we can offer in key “power lanes” for these providers where they will offer competitive pricing with equipment allocations instead of being subject to just spot/transactional pricing.)

With these sources combined, Knichel has access to over 160,000 53’ intermodal containers within the North American intermodal network. In addition, Knichel has relationships with 7 of the top 10 steamship lines in the world to secure ISO capacity. We offer expedited, refrigerated containers, and boxcars in addition to traditional intermodal.

Intermodal Equipment Types:

  • 53’ COFC (Container on Flat Car): Standard intermodal equipment
    • Standard inside dims: 52’ 6” L x 99” W x 110” H
    • Standard max weight: 43,000 lbs. (exceptions can be made depending on the route)
  • ISO Small Box Containers: 20’/40’/45’
    • Limited routings: Usually westbound to west coast ports only
      • These are domestic returns of international boxes back to the ports. Certain steamship lines allow us use of the container that is inland to return back to the west coast (rather than re-positioning it empty)
    • Not available at all origins
    • 20’ must move on the rail in pairs, so moving a single domestically has very limited availability
    • 40’/45’s can be a good option for dense product (weighs out before cubes out)
    • Standard inside 40’ dims: 39’ 6” L x 92” W x 94” H
  • 53’ Reefer
    • Not available in all lanes
    • Qualcomm monitoring while on rail
    • Restrictions on certain commodities

If you are interested in learning more about the different types of intermodal container options available, please follow this link.

Benefits of Intermodal:

  • Intermodal shipping is four times more fuel efficient than truckload.
  • One train can carry the load of 280 trucks which makes intermodal a far more environmentally friendly method of shipping.
  • Switching from truckload to intermodal greatly reduces highway congestion.
  • Transit time is reasonably comparable to truckload, unless you require a highly expedited service.
  • In lanes exceeding 1000 miles, intermodal pricing can be particularly price competitive with motor carrier pricing, often yielding a 10-25% cost savings.
  • Intermodal can be a significant source of capacity, particularly in peak season surges and when truck capacity tightens.
  • Intermodal is another viable option in your shipping arsenal. Having the choice of utilizing a competitive alternative to truckload is a wise way to optimize your freight shipping.

As truckload capacity continues to tighten and over the road rates rise, the value proposition of intermodal is strong and projected to remain so.

With the ELD (electronic logging device) mandate, truck miles per day are expected to fall by nearly 30%, which will require the rate per mile to increase in order to make up for that loss. Factor in increased congestion on the roads and a continuous decrease in the number of drivers, and we have a scenario that further bolsters intermodal as a solid alternative to truckload.

Give intermodal a try today. Request a rate here. If you’re looking for more information on intermodal, download our Ultimate Intermodal Guide here.