Ways Intermodal Transportation Can Benefit Your Overall Business – The American trucking industry is facing an unprecedented capacity crunch. All over the U.S., truckers are retiring much faster than logistics firms can replace them, and the result is an historic case of demand outpacing supply. Businesses large and small are racing to combat interruptions to their supply chains and, increasingly, that means turning to intermodal transportation.
Intermodal transportation is the “planes, trains and automobiles” approach to logistics. It’s a strategy for transporting shipping containers and other cargo that uses all available methods of transportation, no matter whether it flies, sails or drives. For shippers who frequently move cargo over long distances, intermodal shipping can offer substantial advantages in several key areas.
Businesses considering moving to an intermodal transportation model will need to weigh the potential benefits of adopting the new system. However, many businesses have found that the change produces positive results for their delivery times, their supply chain reliability and even their carbon footprints. Here are six of the biggest benefits of switching to an intermodal logistics model.
One of the greatest advantages of shipping containers is that they can be moved using many different means of transportation without having to be re-packed. A container ship can unload its cargo and send it straight to a rail yard, where it can wait until a last-mile delivery solution can be found. Intermodal transportation takes advantage of this versatility to leverage a variety of shipping options.
With the aforementioned capacity crunch hitting the trucking industry hard, other transportation methods are increasingly stepping in to pick up the slack and make sure that goods get where they need to go. Intermodal rail transit has experienced the most growth of any freight transit method in the past 10 years. Shippers love the reliability of rail freight—it’s a tried and true technology with a long and illustrious history in the U.S. For businesses looking for speed and efficiency in their transportation, it pays to keep all possible options open and to consider intermodal transportation.
Despite the industry’s best efforts to improve safety, the fact remains that trucking on American highways is often dangerous. Approximately one in 10 highway deaths in the U.S. involves a large truck. Crowded highways and other drivers distracted by mobile phones have made the problem even worse.
Rail, sea, and air freight are all seen as considerably safer than trucking, and for good reason. Accident numbers for these intermodal shipping methods are all substantially lower than highway freight. Although the trucking industry continues to take steps to operate more safely, the simple truth is that intermodal transit is safer for both people and goods.
Intermodal freight transportation can offer significant cost savings compared to a trucking-only model. Estimates vary depending on cargo, distance, and other factors, but some studies indicate that shippers can often save as much as 10 to 40 percent by moving to intermodal transportation.
That cost savings comes from several different sources. One is fuel savings: A train can move one ton of freight 450 miles on just a single gallon of fuel. By comparison, a state-of-the-art highly fuel-efficient tractor trailer gets just 12.2 miles per gallon. Economy of scale is an even more staggering cost factor: One intermodal train can move the same amount of freight as 280 million truckloads. When a business is moving long-distance freight, the numbers are clear that intermodal transit (particularly rail) can offer substantial cost savings.
Not all countries have the extensive system of highways and surface streets that the United States does. If your business does a lot of international shipping, that can mean that intermodal transit may not be merely an option but a necessity.
Europe, for example, has numerous older cities with surface streets that simply won’t accommodate large trucks. In many of these cities, freight goes straight from a rail yard to smaller last-mile ground transportation. Meanwhile, in less-developed countries, highways may lack the capacity to support efficient freight operations. For shippers, working with a freight forwarder with expertise in the specific country you need to ship to will help address issues like these.
As a result of the trucking industry’s capacity shortage, shippers moving goods via trucking networks are often asked to bend their schedules to fit the needs of carriers—when trucks are available at all. That need to reconfigure supply chains around the demands of trucking companies can wreak havoc on supply chains.
Working with all available tools is one way to increase the reliability of a business’s supply chain. Businesses that utilize a variety of intermodal transport option reduce their reliance on trucking and greatly increase their ability to procure transportation on demand. That translates to a supply chain that’s both more flexible and more reliable than one based solely on trucking.
Trucking is among the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, with medium- and heavy-duty trucks accounting for 23% of U.S. carbon emissions. That’s more than aircraft, rail and water vessels combined. If your business is serious about reducing its carbon footprint, switching to an intermodal supply chain is one option that can potentially take a serious chunk out of your emissions.
Naturally, there are caveats to using the intermodal model. One is the last-mile problem that vexes many shippers: Trains, ships and planes are great for long distances, but they’re not well-equipped to deliver your product to the end user. Yet an intermodal system doesn’t mean eliminating trucking and road transit as an option—it only means that a business is putting every realistic option on the table.
From your business’s bottom line to the health of the planet, intermodal supply chains have numerous benefits for the long-distance shipper. If you frequently ship long-distance freight, it may be time to consider branching out into the many options and transportation methods available.
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