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Intermodal Rail Freight Remains Vital to the Global Shipping Industry

There is a great deal of focus on the transportation of goods by specialized container ships, but first those consignments need to find their way to the docks. This task is accomplished by using an intermodal rail freight network and huge fleets of large trucks. The industry term, ‘intermodal’, means that corrugated steel shipping containers can be transferred by crane from one mode of transport to another, without unloading the contents, which is both a painstaking and labour-intensive task. That means it’s also prohibitively expensive for shipping companies and the clients they past costs on to.

Efficient and Secure Haulage Solutions by Rail

Intermodal containerization has proven to be the quickest and safest way to transport fast moving consumer goods (FMCG’s) over long distances, both domestically and internationally. Steel Conex boxes travelling by rail remain largely secure from petty theft, especially when fitted with alarms and lock-boxes, and offer complete protection from the weather.

Shipping-containers-on-trainDifferent types of shipping container have evolved to haul different consignment types. For instance, insulated and refrigerated models are common examples of Conex boxes used to move perishable loads, such as farm produce, beverages and flowers. Insulation also helps prevent condensation form forming near the tops of boxes, which is an eternal problem for Corten steel shipping containers and can damage furniture and dry goods.

The Train Takes the Strain

One locomotive can do the job of dozens of trucks, faster and more efficiently. There are no issues with heavy traffic slowing delivery, drivers don’t need frequent rest breaks and in many cases a railhead can be established at the point of production, at a coalmine or lumber yard for example. This scenario means shipping container trucks are totally removed from the equation. To companies increasingly concerned with reducing their carbon footprint, this is a very attractive proposition. Transferring haulage to rail from road has been found to reduce fuel usage by around two thirds and has the positive side-effect of also reducing traffic congestion on American roads.

Crane-loads-shipping-container-onto-trainDouble-Stack Rail Transport of Shipping Containers

Where there is sufficient vertical clearance above the track, intermodal steel shipping containers are often stacked two-high on railroad cars. First introduced in 1984, this system is now so popular that it is used in approximately 70% of American intermodal rail shipments. Double-stacking drastically reduces the cost of transportation per shipping container.

Whilst this system is popular in the US, physical restrictions in other countries, dictate that it’s not so widespread. For instance, there are often too many low bridges and rail tunnels to make double-stacking viable. And, in Europe there are also weight restrictions due to the types of couplers used, that negate the cost benefits derived by by American haulage firms.

Double-stacked-shipping-containers-on-trainThe most common size of shipping container moved by rail in the US is 53-foot but in Europe it remains predominantly at 20, 40 or sometimes 45-foot. In America, everything tends to be on a larger scale, except the haulage costs.

Some countries outside Europe do manage to operate double-stack shipping container trains, including India, parts of Australia and China.

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