International Rail

International Rail

Intermodal freight transport involves the transportation of freight in an intermodal container or vehicle, using multiple modes of transportation (e.g., rail, ship, and truck), without any handling of the freight itself when changing modes. This results in lower cargo-handling costs while improving security, and reducing damages and losses. 

 Intermodal rail — the transportation of shipping containers and truck trailers by rail — enables railroads to provide their customers with cost-effective, environmentally friendly service for almost anything that can be loaded into a truck or a container. Shippers benefit from the flexible service that trucks provide, at the competitive rates that only rail intermodal can offer. The general public benefits from a reduction in highway congestion and harmful emissions and from the reduced cost of moving goods to market via intermodal. 

 Starting with the advent of the modern shipping container in the 1950s, freight railroads in the US have invested heavily to build a world-class intermodal rail network. Rail-owned, US domestic containers comprise nearly one-third of the total domestic container population. 

 The vast bulk of these containers have been in two fleets: 

EMP, a domestic interline container program created by Union Pacific Railroad and Norfolk Southern Railway; and UMAX, a domestic interline container program created by CSX Intermodal and Union Pacific, which provides customers access to thousands of 53-foot containers for intermodal marketing companies, motor carriers, freight brokers, truckload, parcel, and less-than-truckload customers.

 The remaining two-thirds of the fleet are privately owned units, operated by such companies as J.B. Hunt, Hub Group, and the like. The rail-owned fleets cater to non-asset carriers, while the private fleets are typically operated by integrated intermodal carriers.

New and expanded intermodal terminals at ports and inland are using advanced technologies to transfer containers to and from trucks in minutes. Additional track capacity and advanced signaling systems allow for faster, more frequent intermodal trains. Bridge and tunnel improvements accommodate the additional height required by double-stack trains.

Timely JOC coverage of this sector provides the latest news, data and analysis about how such developments are affecting not only the intermodal rail sector itself, but also impacting shippers, transportation service providers and other stakeholders in the US and elsewhere around the world.


On the surface, China’s Asia-Europe rail subsidies seem like a slam-dunk win for shippers, a free lunch. But as the axiom states, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” And that axiom applies to international shipping as well.

News & Analysis

23 Aug 2021
Block train activity has lately become a hot carrier play as operators active out of India work to deftly manage available capacity in an elevated freight market.
12 Jul 2021
The new Balli intermodal play in India builds on Maersk’s ongoing efforts to target new customer segments predominantly tethered to transshipping in the absence of long-haul direct carrier calls in the region.
01 Jul 2021
CMA CGM has acquired a rail operator in Spain, adding an intermodal dimension to the ocean carrier’s expanding integrated service portfolio.
14 Jun 2021
Heightened cargo demand and congestion issues at transshipment hub Colombo, Sri Lanka, are spurring new containerized rail services to India’s interior.
08 Feb 2021
As cost-conscious India shippers seek “more for less,” value-added services have begun to occupy center stage in freight contract negotiations, including bespoke intermodal services.
25 Jan 2021
Maersk has teamed up with intermodal rail giant Container Corporation of India to offer block train movement from Kolkata to Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust to feed the carrier’s weekly long-haul sailings out of the busy public harbor.
23 Dec 2020
Carriers believe new Indian rail incentives, coupled with the recent lifting of a 14-day quarantine for incoming Chinese vessels, will have a positive impact on inventory flow.
18 Sep 2020
As container volume has picked up, trucking and logistics executives say that CSX’s domestic intermodal service has become unreliable in two key southeast US rail ramps.
14 Sep 2020
BNSF has named Kathryn Farmer, who has been with the western railroad for 28 years, as its new CEO effective Jan. 1, 2021. She will become the first female CEO of a North American Class I railroad.
25 Aug 2020
Union Pacific Railroad will institute a $500 surcharge on excess cargo for all shippers in Seattle to divert as many assets to Los Angeles as possible amid record-breaking cargo spikes in Southern California.
20 Aug 2020
For the third time this month, Union Pacific has increased spot rates and its peak season surcharge in Los Angeles, raising prices on small shippers to record levels and likely pushing excess cargo back to trucking.
19 Aug 2020
Freight forwarders in the US Midwest and Eastern Canada fear the rail problems plaguing Vancouver could quickly result in excessive delays in delivering containers to the eastern half of the continent.
07 Aug 2020
While Indian rail operators have a long way to go to sufficiently meet the bargains BCOs are seeking to permanently migrate away from their traditional mode of transport, those gaps seem to be narrowing.
29 Jul 2020
A containerized train carrying 50 TEU from India reached Bangladesh’s Benapole port on Sunday, opening a new avenue for trade between the two countries that will cut time and costs.
Texas inland port to offer rail link to Mexican manufacturers
19 Feb 2020
The developer of a Texas industrial park scheduled to open in early 2021 says it will work with Kansas City Southern of Mexico to offer a shorter, cheaper way for Mexican manufacturers to ship goods to Houston and other Texas markets.
New services, auto growth to drive Mexican intermodal gains in 2020
17 Jan 2020
Despite Mexico’s sluggish economy, the intermodal sector could see benefits in 2020 from the expected implementation of the United States Mexico Canada Agreement and new rail services.
16 Jan 2020
Touting it as a game-changing move, Indian Railways has opened consultations with stakeholders to introduce double-stack “dwarf container” train operations at Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in a bid to better compete with over-the-road haulers.
03 Jan 2020
The country's government is looking to improve cargo fluidity at key seaports and border crossings — and reduce traffic on congested roads — via increased use of intermodal rail and a new marine highway program.
30 Dec 2019
As volumes on the China–Europe rail route continue to grow, stakeholders are looking at ways to make the network more efficient, as well as potential reforms to the system of subsidies that fund operations.
28 Nov 2019
Despite the lifting of Russian sanctions on the transit of agricultural products through its territory, some big issues stand in the way of rising volume.
26 Nov 2019
If the heavy support of subsidies from China was withdrawn quickly, it is likely only higher-value products would be viable on the China-Europe rail network.
26 Nov 2019
The week-long strike by workers at Canadian National Railroad will end Tuesday after the railroad and Teamsters reached a contract agreement that will go to the union membership for ratification.
22 Nov 2019
Canadian Pacific Railroad is looking to enhance the services offered at its facility in Montreal, starting with the construction of a transload terminal that will open next year.
21 Nov 2019
Canadian National’s ability to maintain international intermodal services will deteriorate the longer the strike lasts.
20 Nov 2019
Business leaders urged the Canadian government to help resolve the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference’s strike against Canadian National Railroad as the job action entered its second day.
08 Nov 2019
Inland container depot movement by train has steadily gained traction over the past three months at India’s JNPT in the wake of a more collaborative rail arrangement sealed between the port and terminal stakeholders.
24 Oct 2019
The third blockage this year of the main rail line into the Mexican Port of Lázaro Cárdenas, which is operated by Kansas City Southern of Mexico (KCSM) will likely add to shipper fears that moving cargo by rail is unreliable.
27 Sep 2019
Hyundai Merchant Marine has set up weekly block train operations from India’s Bharat Mumbai Container Terminals to a key northern India hinterland point; the service launched this week with a 90-TEU railcar.
12 Sep 2019
Trains began running again into the Mexican Port of Lazaro Cardenas Thursday, two days after protestors halted train traffic at the port, raising anew concerns of reliability of the country’s railroad system in moving freight.
12 Sep 2019
Growth in container volumes and efficiency enhancements at key border crossings should contribute to a strong, but relatively smooth peak season for rail service between China and Europe.
03 Sep 2019
The president of Mexico said work is continuing on a project to create a modern, efficient freight-moving operation by rail across the narrowest stretch of Mexico, which links ports on the Pacific and Gulf coasts.
12 Aug 2019
Sponsored: CN president and CEO JJ Ruest discusses working with customers on individual priorities and investing in both talent and, at the Port of Vancouver, rail expansion with the Centerm and GCT Vanterm projects.
22 Jul 2019
Kansas City Southern’s cross-border intermodal rail volumes increased in the second quarter amid truck delays, but the railroad’s intermodal business as a whole struggled to compete with a lower-priced trucking sector.
China-Europe rail services cut transit times
02 Jul 2019
Despite huge growth in container volume transported by rail between China and Europe, the journey time is decreasing as services become more efficient.
26 Jun 2019
CMA CGM’s latest rail investment in India continues to tap into the country’s emerging inland market.