Technically, intermodal shipping means moving freight by two or more modes of transportation. But when rail shippers talk about “intermodal,” they usually mean shipments that travel between trucks and trains in containers.
Intermodal works like this:
- Products are loaded into a container.
- The container is placed on a truck chassis.
- The truck transports the container to an intermodal ramp (usually a short distance)
- Once it reaches an intermodal ramp, the container is lifted off the chassis, then placed on a flat or well car to travel by train.
- The container is then transferred back to a truck for final delivery.
Key differentiator: Products stay in the same container for the entire haul.
Transloading is very similar to intermodal shipping in that products are transferred between trucks and trains – except that with transloading, products are moved between conveyances rather than staying in the same container the whole way.
For instance, a forklift may transfer palletized goods from a truck to a larger rail car, or a crane may lift heavy products like steel beams off a rail car and place them on a flatbed truck.
Transloading works like this:
- Products are loaded onto a truck.
- The truck transports the container to a transload facility
- At the transload facility, products are transferred to a rail car.
- The product type determines how it is transferred (e.g., pump, crane or forklift) and to which type of rail car (e.g., tank car, flat car or box car).
- If needed, products are transferred back to trucks for final delivery.
Key differentiator: Products are unloaded from trucks onto trains and back again.
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