Due to the collaborative nature of intermodal rail shipping, real-time visibility covering the end-to-end shipment lifecycle is crucial. Think about all the potential areas of shipment data blackouts: there’s the transition from port to rail, the long journey across the country in a rail car, and the transition to a trucking provider for last-mile delivery. Add drayage providers to the front end, and it’s easy to see how accurately tracking shipments requires complex coordination. Poor visibility leads to coordination difficulties, data management issues, and delivery uncertainty; these issues can become pervasive and impede efficient intermodal transportation for shippers and the entire global supply chain industry.
Shippers need shipment transparency in intermodal rail, as intermodal transportation is only growing to match the acceleration of international trade. Developing a visibility strategy based on rich data analytics requires a partnership with an innovative supply chain technology provider.
By tapping into end-to-end visibility, from port to delivery, shippers keep from getting charged for containers sitting in ports, terminals, and rail yards. While avoiding these detention and demurrage charges is beneficial enough, visibility also enables shippers to plan for, track, and even anticipate logistics exceptions that arise from weather events, supply chain disruptions, and even simple congestion. Supply chain visibility solutions also increase collaboration among stakeholders.
Why is intermodal rail superior to trucking?
Intermodal rail has not yet taken significant market share from trucking. When tight capacity persists in the trucking market, some shippers might switch to rail for a limited time, but the growth in intermodal rail has not been to the long-term detriment of trucking.
Shippers are beginning to explore intermodal with more frequency, and the potential for explosive growth remains because of the clear benefits of rail shipping.
Rail Shipping Promotes Sustainability
In a supply chain world where ocean shipping emissions are starting to become heavily regulated, shippers can get ahead of the supply chain sustainability regulations coming for other modes. By simply switching from trucking to rail, shippers are greening their supply chain. According to Union Pacific, if only one-quarter of the nation’s long-haul truck transits transitioned to rail, the nation would remove 13.1 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the environment each year.
Rail is Cheaper than Trucking
One rail car can fit the equivalent of between three and four truckloads. That makes intermodal rail shipping a significantly cheaper option than trucking. And to this the lack of congestion on the roads — though rail delays are another issue entirely — and it’s clear that the benefits of intermodal rail shipping vastly outweigh trucking. Security and safety are always a concern, and in general, experts point to rail as a more secure option for intermodal operations.
Intermodal Rail Tracking: The Basics
Intermodal transportation is a cost-effective solution for moving imported and exported goods to and from the ports. While the term intermodal applies to the use of two modes in the journey, the most useful for shippers is intermodal rail due to its low cost, security, and positive impact on emissions. Though intermodal rail shipping offers significant benefits for shippers, there are also challenges. Shippers that partner with supply chain technology providers for real-time intermodal rail transportation can overcome these challenges and use the visibility data to take advantage of new supply chain opportunities.
According to the Association of American Railroads, 13.5 million units were transported on the domestic railroads, half of which were imports and exports, in 2022. This activity highlights the importance of the railroads in maintaining an optimized supply chain. It’s imperative that shippers develop processes, in conjunction with supply chain sustainability providers, that streamline rail intermodal operations but also account for substantial growth in rail activity over the coming years.
How Does Intermodal Tracking Work?
The best intermodal rail visibility solutions are powered by direct API connections to Class I railroads — Union Pacific, BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, and Kansas City Southern — giving shippers instant access to tracking updates. Data is provided via GPS, RFID, or IoT devices on each container, giving users a steady stream of data ranging from location to temperature information. Each device has its drawbacks — GPS trackers need a strong signal and work best outside; IoT devices are expensive and necessitate added infrastructure — so a container tracking operation using multiple technologies may be best.
Vizion links intermodal visibility to ocean shipment tracking to simplify supply chain management. With a single tracking request, shippers can capture end-to-end tracking and visibility information, saying goodbye forever to separate transactions and documentation.
Why is Intermodal Tracking Important?
Intermodal tracking has a range of benefits and has transformed how shippers operate their supply chains, despite the drawbacks.
Intermodal tracking platforms enable shippers with:
- No-gap visibility: End-to-end visibility from ocean to rail to road from one system with low latency and no blackout spots gives shippers complete control of their operations. Intermodal tracking solutions can also alert shippers to inland terminal events — think Container Available for Pickup and Last Free Date — that keep the supply chain operating at peak efficiency.
- Real-time ETAs: Accurate, dynamic rail transit ETAs enable shippers to analyze and predict their transportation decisions, also providing data valuable for evaluating the on-time performance of carrier partners.
- Collaboration: By definition, intermodal shipping requires multiple stakeholders. A robust visibility tool from a provider like Vision helps unite these parties by enabling the unfettered sharing of standardized, error-free supply chain data.
- Data-powered decisions: Shippers can use the error-free data collected by Vizion’s system for deep analytic dives into their supply chain processes, uncovering new insights and creating a more resilient operation.
A real-time intermodal tracking operation can also help shippers avoid supply chain disruptions. The transparency allows shippers to see disruptions before or quickly after they occur, giving them time to reroute or develop a new shipment plan if necessary.
Maximizing Supply Chain Efficiency with Advanced Tracking
Visibility tools enable shippers to access pinpoint ETA data that enables advanced planning and scheduling, ensuring that the supply chain functions optimally. The real-time data and analytics capabilities provided by supply chain visibility tools improve decision-making and operational efficiency. With API integrations to Class I carriers, there’s no latency in updates, enhancing visibility and efficiency in intermodal container tracking.
Enhancing End-to-End Visibility
Rail visibility can’t exist in a vacuum. Pinpoint rail tracking is useful, but if that visibility vanishes when shipments transition to other spokes in the intermodal chain, the technology tools are not as valuable. Comprehensive visibility across all transportation modes is a must for efficient supply chain management. When Vizion introduced its rail tracking solution, it noted that “by offering an instant-on source of truth for tracking containers as they traverse the continent by rail, this feature dramatically reduces the uncertainty that typically characterizes the transition from ocean to rail.”
Operational Benefits and Customer Satisfaction
Improved tracking leads to enhanced operational efficiency and increased customer satisfaction. When customers know exactly when they will receive their goods, and have documentation from IoT devices proving their goods were never tampered with, happiness increases, and repeat business occurs. Customers see visibility as a crucial attribute in shipping operations — and the more shippers can provide these users with added value from visibility solutions, the better.
The Advantages in Real-Life: Vizion’s Intermodal Rail Tracking
Vizon’'s cutting-edge intermodal rail tracking enhances end-to-end visibility, operational efficiency, and customer satisfaction while helping shippers prioritize the reduction of supply chain emissions. With Vizion, shippers strengthen supply chain resilience and efficiency. It’s all part of a holistic supply chain management strategy, explains Kyle Henderson, Vizion’s co-founder and CEO.
"End-to-end supply chain visibility is an elusive goal for all shippers and logistics service providers," he said. "With rail tracking now complementing our existing ocean tracking solution, Vizion users can draw closer to that goal in a way that is seamless and easy to integrate."
Seamless Integration Across Modes
Vizion’s innovative intermodal rail visibility solution includes seamless integration across all modes in the intermodal value chain, allowing shippers to track their cargo holistically. Shippers receive a complete picture into the lifecycle of their shipments, and Vizion’s rail intermodal visibility solution gives shippers the supply chain agility needed to handle any logistics disruptions that emerge during shipping.
Vizon’s exception management process makes sure shippers know immediately about shipments that require urgent action. These shipments can then be redirected to get their shipments back on track.
Vizion: Shaping the Future of Tracking In All Modes
Vizion’s intermodal solutions extend beyond the container. The company utilizes machine learning and AI to make predictive ETAs but to also return performance analysis information. Optimized booking recommendations are not far off. These solutions, powered by AI, are bringing shippers even more value and helping them go beyond simply tracking their rail shipments.
To see how Vizion helps shippers maintain shipment visibility across all modes with its intermodal rail tracking solution, schedule a demo today.