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.