Translogistics Blog

TLI University: Intermodal

May 1, 2020

Written By: Translogistics

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Welcome to TLI University!

With more than 20 years in the industry we thought it was time to pass along some of the knowledge that helped us get to where we are today. This is a weekly publication aimed to educate anyone who is curious about transportation and shipping.

This week moves onto Intermodal Transportation, defining what it is and what it requires.

This information can also be found in our printable version of Transportation 101. Please visit to download today!


What is Intermodal Transportation?

  • Intermodal Transportation is the use of multiple “modes” of transportation to transport product from an origin to a destination – it most cases, and for the topic of this review, the modes are truck and rail
  • Material is picked up in a standard truck trailer or intermodal container at the shipper’s origin by a drayage carrier
  • A drayage carrier is a trucking company that is primarily responsible for picking up an empty container from the railyard and taking it to the shipping point for loading – once loaded, the drayage carrier will transport the container to the railyard for loading onto the rail – this is the first “truck” portion of the intermodal move
  • Once the container arrives in the railyard, it is removed from the chassis by crane, loaded and secured to a railcar – this begins the “rail” portion of the intermodal move – from this point the container will move through the nation’s rail network to the closest railyard to the consignee’s location
  • After the container is “grounded”, the “truck” portion of the intermodal move performed at the origin will be made it reverse with the drayage carrier making the delivery to the consignee and then returning the empty container back to the railyard
  • Intermodal Transportation is almost always less expensive than shipping via standard “over the road” truck transportation – the fuel surcharge is also ½ of the amount of the fuel surcharge for truck transportation, which can relate to significant savings for the customer
  • The tradeoff for the reduced pricing is that the transit times can be slower than that of truck transportation
  • An additional drawback of shipping via intermodal transportation is that the shipper is responsible for loading the container in such a way that the product will ride safely from the shipper’s door to the consignee’s door – this is done through “blocking and bracing”- most of our intermodal providers will offer complimentary site visits to assist our customers in properly blocking and bracing their particular product
  • Some examples of Intermodal Providers that TLI uses are J.B. Hunt, Roar Logistics and Hub Group

What information is needed when booking an Intermodal shipment?

  • Origin (Shipper) City, State and Zip Code
  • Destination (Consignee) City, State and Zip Code
  • Shipping Date and Time – When is the specific time or “window” that the shipment is to be picked up by the carrier?
    • Note – Intermodal shipments are just like truckload shipments in that they generally need 2 day notice to be picked up – capacity is generally easier to secure with intermodal transportation, but the lane must be a lane that has intermodal rail transportation capabilities – both origin and destination must be within a certain radius of a railyard
    • Note – Specific appointment times are often required when dealing with intermodal shipments
  • Delivery Date and Time – When is the specific time or “window” that the shipment is to be delivered by the carrier?
    • Note – Specific appointment times are often required when dealing with intermodal shipments
    • Note – As mentioned above, intermodal rail transportation generally requires an increased amount of days for transit times – the customer needs to be made aware of what the difference is in terms of cost and transit times when comparing standard truck transportation with intermodal
  • Number and Types of Pieces Shipping – How many pallets, bundles, cartons or pieces are shipping? Even though the shipper is purchasing the entire use of the container, the intermodal companies will often ask these questions
  • Weight of the Shipment – How much does the total shipment weigh? As previously mentioned, dry van truckload carriers can generally “scale” between 43,000 and 45,000 pounds – intermodal containers can generally “scale” a slight amount less than a standard truckload carrier – care must be taken to verify with the intermodal provider what the maximum weight is that they can transport in the container
  • Commodity of Shipment – What product(s) does the shipment consist of? The intermodal providers will only be concerned with the commodity – they are generally not concerned with the National Motor Freight Classification of the commodity – again, the shipper is responsible for blocking and bracing the product to ensure a safe transit to the consignee – make sure they are aware!
  • Purchase Order and / or Other Reference Number – what is the customer’s Purchase Order Number? What paperwork do they need it listed on? Is there any other reference number that the customer would like included on their paperwork?
  • Value of Shipment – Is the product high value? Is additional cargo insurance required? Additional cargo insurance can generally be purchased at a quoted rate by the carrier – intermodal providers generally carry $100,000 or $250,000 of standard  cargo insurance – Example: If a customer’s freight is worth $175,000 and the carrier only carries $100,000 of cargo insurance, an additional $75,000 of insurance may be quoted from the intermodal provider and provided as an option to the customer – there are customers that have the product “self-insured”, which leaves the need for additional cargo liability insurance unnecessary


For more information on the transportation industry, check out our

printable guide that includes this Intermodal section!


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