Shipping freight via rail has many benefits for shippers. It is an economical shipping method for long distances and has lower carbon emissions than other methods by using less fuel to move a similar amount of freight. These advantages make using rail as part of an intermodal freight transportation plan essential.
Intermodal freight transportation moves freight through the use of multiple modes of transportation. An intermodal container or vehicle ensures the cargo is not handled when modes change.
Due to the potential for savings and reduced emissions, intermodal freight transportation continues to grow rapidly. According to Mordor Intelligence, the intermodal Freight Transportation Market is anticipated to register a CAGR of 8.27% during the forecast period. When moving long distances, companies should consider alternate transportation modes as they evaluate emerging ways to cut freight costs and their carbon footprint.
What’s Behind the Growth in Intermodal?
While trucking remains the most prolific mode of moving freight, intermodal freight transportation continues to grow due to providing shippers increased savings, reduced emissions, and significantly lowered cargo handling, loss, and damage.
Moving freight via rail is incredibly fuel efficient, tremendously reducing greenhouse gas emissions and lowering shippers’ carbon footprints.
Using technology to reduce fuel use and increase efficiency across all operations, railroads have worked diligently to ensure that each gallon of fuel moves a train as far as possible. Using today’s most advanced diesel locomotives, Tier 4 locomotives, in concert with fuel management systems, on average, U.S. freight railroads need only one gallon of fuel to move one ton of freight nearly 500 miles.
The addition of anti-idling technologies and zero-emissions cranes have brought sustainability to the railyard. Whether a shipper’s freight is moving or being loaded/unloaded, shipping via rail is optimized to reduce carbon emissions.
Cargo theft is a severe problem that is on the rise. In 2022, cargo thefts jumped 20% for the transportation sector, with the most significant portion coming in the fourth quarter. The value of the cargo lost in 2022 was $223 million, with an average loss value of $214,104 per event.
Intermodal transport primarily transpires in controlled environments like ports, inland ports, and rail yards, which are under near-constant surveillance. Because of this, intermodal transport offers a far higher level of cargo security.
During difficult economic periods, shippers look at all ways to lower their operational spending, and intermodal freight sees tremendous growth due to being one of the most cost-effective means of transportation.
Intermodal freight transportation uses less fuel to transport the same amount of cargo, reducing transport costs. Additionally, intermodal has fewer exchanges, resulting in lower handling charges.
Despite these three enormous benefits, challenges have remained.
Despite the Growth of Intermodal Transportation, Challenges Remain for Rail
While answering the needs of sustainability, safety, and cost-effectiveness and continuing to grow in its use, challenges remain for rail.
ETAs that are accurate and regularly updated can be challenging to come by, often requiring calls to the carriers or railroads should a disruption happen. Tracking the location and ETA of freight becomes frustrating and time-consuming when there is limited visibility into movements and events.
Coordination and Synchronization Issues
Using multiple modes of transportation involves coordination and synchronization. Each mode is subject to its own disruptions, which could vary from weather to labor strikes or delays. A bad order or extensive dwell time with one carrier impacts getting the freight to the next mode of transportation.
With each additional mode of transportation, variables could stack up. Lacking visibility into what is happening and where the freight is located makes coordination and synchronization incredibly difficult.
Managing Multiple Stakeholders and Ensuring Timely Handoffs
Every shipment has multiple stakeholders depending on it. It needs to be somewhere by a specific time to ensure processes keep moving and the cargo eventually ends up where it ultimately needs to be, in the hands of a purchaser.
Using multiple modes of transportation complicates communication between stakeholders. It jeopardizes timely handoffs, especially when visibility is limited and things like the number of empty railcars that can be utilized are unknown.
It’s challenging to inform current decisions or know what to improve upon in subsequent shipments without adequate data or with data varying in formats, consistency, or standardization. Evaluating freight partners with poor data is nearly impossible.
This lack of data and data coordination reverberates through the entire supply chain and negatively impacts transit times.
Fortunately, recent technological innovations help shippers overcome these barriers to the efficient use of intermodal transportation.
Rail Container Tracking Provides Shippers With a Key Advantage in High-Stakes Intermodal Supply Chains
The ability to track containers on rail cargo in real-time changes the game for shippers, making intermodal more efficient and effective and allowing them to realize the benefits of sustainability, safety, and cost-effectiveness. They eliminate the drawbacks of intermodal while reaping more of the rewards.
Improved Visibility Means Improved Collaboration
The improved visibility of container rail tracking changes everything, allowing shippers to locate shipments accurately and in real time and then share locations and ETAs with other supply chain stakeholders.
Knowing the current locations of their freight and ETAs, shippers are empowered to keep cargo moving and avoid fees at rail yards, which are often higher than the fees at ocean ports.
Real-Time Awareness Means Real-Time Reactivity
It’s impossible to resolve what isn’t yet known. If a disruption like a slowdown or a derailment had occurred, it could take hours for the news to reach shippers in the past. Worse, it could take even longer for the freight to be recovered and get it moving again.
With rail tracking container software, shippers are ensured up-to-date knowledge of their high-stakes rail shipments. They have the timely information required to adapt to disruptions quickly.
Optimized Data Processes Mean Actionable Analytics
In the past, the lack of data visibility around rail shipments hindered shippers' ability to work toward more efficient rail operations. They haven’t been able to fix and improve on what they didn’t know.
Data visibility from an API provides actionable analytics and helps shippers avoid costly and time-consuming in-house data processing allowing them to build toward more efficient operations. That the data is enhanced to reflect rail status events and show destination ramp ETAs makes it ultimately more valuable. Standardized milestones mean what would have been data events unique to each carrier are now easily interpreted and understood.
The shipper can now access quality data that will give them more resilient and efficient supply chains.
Unleash the Potential of Intermodal with Rail Container Tracking Software from VIZION API
Intermodal freight transport offers shippers tremendous opportunities to save money, reduce their carbon footprints, and protect their cargo. While there have been barriers in the past due to limited visibility, inability to coordinate and synchronize, inefficient management of multiple stakeholders, and poor data quality, new advancements have alleviated these problems.
With new rail visibility and data solutions, shippers now realize the benefits of intermodal transportation without the issues that plagued them previously. Using an API, they save time and money that would be lost to developing an in-house data solution.
Shippers now have the data to continually improve their operations and efficiently communicate with other stakeholders. Most importantly, they know where their freight is located and its ETA.
With rail container tracking from VIZION API, shippers are emboldened to make the most of intermodal freight transportation. Freight movement milestones are standardized, shippers have real-time access to their freight locations, they are instantly notified of exceptions, and freight data is easily shared with other stakeholders.
VIZION API easily integrates into a shipper’s existing tech stack, saving them the cost and time associated with in-house development and allowing them to focus on continual operational improvement.
Shippers that want to eliminate the barriers to realizing the incredible benefits of intermodal freight transportation turn to VIZION API.
Booking a demo with VIZION API today will start you down the path of benefitting from intermodal freight transportation's sustainability, safety, and cost savings.