In recent years rail roads have been experiencing a boom in order to keep up with increasing demand from shippers. The infrastructures are being upgraded and capacities are increasing due to demand. Struggles this past year at the Southern California Ports, emphasized the need for diversity in a transportation plan. Intermodal transportation offers an important opportunity to lower shipping costs while cutting carbon emissions. Transporting a medium- to long-distance load via intermodal costs 15 to 40 percent less than moving the same load by truck. And studies show that shipping by rail is three to four times more fuel-efficient – and therefore more environmentally friendly – than shipping over the road (OTR). Although transportation managers often shied away from rail in the past, many companies today make Intermodal a key element of their transportation strategies.Here are six tips for getting the most out of intermodal service:
- Be Flexible: Good forecasts and careful analysis can reveal opportunities to modify your supply chain to support intermodal transportation. If you can keep more inventory in stock, for example, you might be able afford an extra day or two in transit. Adjustments in the timing and size of orders might also make certain lanes good candidates for intermodal.
- Match the mode to the need. Intermodal works best for longer hauls – trips of maybe 750 miles or more. But it doesn’t work equally well for every lane. It works when rail travel doesn’t add a great deal of transit time, or when the prospective savings justify the cost of holding extra inventory. It may not be the best option when the final destination is too far from the intermodal terminal to make the numbers work, or the disadvantages of a longer lead time outweigh the benefits that a mode switch would provide
- Put your eggs in two baskets. To reduce risk and ensure that you always have enough product in the pipeline, consider dividing freight on the same lane between intermodal and OTR.
- For imports, transloading saves even more. “You can get three 40-foot high cube containers into two 53-foot containers,” says Maldonado. That means you’ll ship two intermodal containers on the rail instead of three ocean containers, reducing your costs. Crossdock operations come with costs of their own, he cautions, but for companies shipping larger volumes they can be a sound investment.
- Learn the schedules. Make sure you can get your load to the origin ramp in time to be picked up. Also, know when the train is due at the destination ramp. Does that schedule allow you to get the load drayed to consignees in time to meet service
- Don’t forget about drayage. No matter how good your experience with the railroads, if the carriers hauling containers to and from the ramps let you down, intermodal could become a losing proposition. Work with reliable drayage companies, or with a trusted 3PL that provides excellent local transportation.