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container drayage shipping

What Is Drayage Shipping and When Do You Need It?

What is container drayage shipping?

Container drayage shipping is moving container freight over short distances, mainly in the same metropolitan area between ports, facilities, rail yards or other shipping hubs. Drayage transportation is handled by trucks and is usually part of intermodal transport. The service is in extremely high demand in large port cities, like Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Baltimore, Seattle, and more.

The history of container drayage shipping

Surprisingly, the history of drayage service goes further in the past than many can imagine. In fact, the term “drayage” originates from the word “dray.” This is an old vehicle which means a low cart without sides, driven by horses. Obviously, such carriages couldn’t handle long hauls and moved goods over short distances within the villages and towns. The technology was used until the beginning of the twentieth century before modern trucks replaced it.

The role of container drayage in intermodal transportation

Although container drayage seems like a small link, it plays a substantial role in the entire supply chain. Quick and safe pick up of your cargo and smooth delivery to the next shipping dock ensures that every following operation goes well. Essentially, proper equipment and well-organized load planning are crucial for an efficient drayage move.

Intermodal shipping accounts for a sufficient part of overall cargo movement. According to the Intermodal Association of North America, 95 percent of intermodal freight goes in a container at some point in transit. This means utilizing container drayage freight carriers or drayage shipping services, which is primarily transporting a container, is critical for companies who ship intermodal.

What services does container drayage shipping include?

  • Moving cargo from port to port
  • Port to the rail yard
  • Port to warehouse/shipping hub
  • Facility to the port, rail yard, or another facility

What does the drayage transportation process look like?

The intermodal drayage process begins with receiving a container with freight at the port, facility, warehouse, or a rail point. Then, the received goods are separated, loaded and taken to its next destination point. Short distance shipping as drayage is handled by trucks. Consequently, companies that use drayage services need accurate scheduling and shipment planning. That’s where a third-party logistics provider (3PLs) can help.

Ultimately, any successful logistics operation starts with proper planning. Make sure to find a reliable transportation partner. Whenever you need to pick up freight and move it to the next hub, drayage services step into the game. It can be an efficient solution for your intermodal strategy.

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When Should You Use Intermodal Transportation?

Shippers who work to reevaluate their current shipping strategy should pay attention to intermodal transportation. More and more companies switch to this solution since it lets them reduce the time and costs used on transportation. Despite the fact that intermodal involves several transportation modes, it can actually bring more efficiency than a single OTR shipping. 

What is intermodal transportation?

Intermodal is a combination of two or more transportation modes. It suggests moving freight without any handling during changing modes. On each stage of shipping, a different carrier manages your load.

What are the benefits of intermodal transportation?

With all the modern problems of trucking, like tight capacity, gas prices, gas emissions and the driver shortage, finding capacity can be complicated. Eventually, many shippers are seeking ways to reduce their transportation costs and move freight more efficiently. It turns out that intermodal shipping can be a great solution for those needs.

Shippers use intermodal transportation for a variety of reasons:

  • Reduced transportation costs. Intermodal combines different shipping modes. Some of them, like rail, can eliminate the overall shipping price. Additionally, it lets you save on fuel. Intermodal shipping also means your freight is moved in containers, which do not require individual handling and cuts manual labor costs.
  • Reliability and safety. In terms of capacity, you can always rely on intermodal. Unlike the OTR mode, rail and other modes give you guaranteed capacity and resources. Shipping with rail is more convenient and secure than trucking because the freight goes through a solid route with fewer stops. Additionally, containers and no handling ensure shipment safety. The train is less likely to cause accidents and can avoid highway congestion.
  • Eco-friendly. Being environmentally conscious is the new thing in the shipping industry. In fact, trucking is a major contributor to overall air pollution: 28 percent of all GHG emissions are caused by heavy-duty trucks. Using alternative transportation modes can drastically lower your carbon footprint. Additionally, more customers become interested in your social mission. Going green can help reduce costs, help the planet, and raise your brand awareness.

Eventually, intermodal shipping can offer companies many considerable advantages. However, it won’t be the best solution for every company and lane. You should choose the shipping strategy depending on your freight type. mileage, cargo volume, and many other factors. 

When should you use intermodal transportation?

Long-distance shipments

Intermodal can be a perfect fit for shippers who move loads to more than 750 miles. Long lanes require high fuel consumption, but rail can resolve this challenge. If the truck has to move your load for more than one day, you’ll most likely benefit from mode combination.

Low and medium value shipments

If you send high-value goods, it’s better to consider the direct and faster method of transportation like air freight. Otherwise, intermodal works for medium value shipments.

Regular shipping of similar products

A combination of modes would benefit you if you regularly send freight in similar quantities. For example, multiple LTL shipments on a constant basis.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, intermodal is a reliable and affordable shipping method that lets you save transportation costs and decrease your company’s carbon footprint. It would surely benefit your long-distance loads and will add value to your supply chain.

For more information please visit our Intermodal transportation page or submit your information to receive a free quote today!

Beginner’s Guide to Intermodal Freight Service

FTR’s Intermodal Competitive Index (ICI) rose in October 2016, reflecting a moderately favorable environment for intermodal transportation. The ICI looks at a variety of factors including truck capacity, fuel prices, rail service, intermodal rates, and more.

What is the prediction for intermodal this year?

Larry Gross, Partner at FTP and principal author of Intermodal Update said, “The fundamentals in the domestic long-haul freight sector are beginning to turn in intermodal’s favor. Truck capacity is starting to tighten as shown by increasing spot market trucking rates. While competitive conditions for intermodal remain challenging, we do expect to see sunnier skies in the coming months.”

Gross goes on to explain that intermodal has not seen a true decrease since the recession, with total activity split between intermodal and domestic container and trailer moves.

The Railroad & Rail Schedule  

The key infrastructure to successful intermodal service is the location of the ramps. Specialized equipment is required to lift containers and trailers onto and off of the railcars. The system requires special gate control procedures, container inspections, storage areas for chasses and containers and other facilities that are not typically available at a general purpose rail yard.

Railroads develop scheduled train service between modes. The trains run as units with no stops between origin and destination. This prioritization allows intermodal traffic to provide more predictable and faster service than traditional carload rail service.

What is a drayman?

A drayman is a specialized motor carrier that does the short-haul between the ramp and the loader or unloader. The drayman could work directly for a carrier coordinating the load or he could be a contractor for an IMC. The dray company may own their own chasses (the trailer framework used to haul the container), or they may draw these from a pool at the ramp.

Container Options

Many shippers that transport high volumes of freight have invested in their own containers. Some domestic containers are controlled by logistics companies. Other containers are owned by railroad-controlled pools.

Ocean vessel companies typically provide containers that the cargo in which the freight ships on their vessels. This can create opportunities or challenges for the domestic leg of an import or export shipment. If relying on a carrier’s container to load at your origin, the shipper is dependent on a flow of containers from that shipping line into the region. As with other transportation, where there is a strong inbound flow, there is an opportunity for backhauls. But, the opposite is true when a container needs to be moved by empty miles to get loaded.

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Reviewing 2016’s Intermodal Predictions & Anticipating 2017

Intermodal transportation is a hybrid system that relies on an interchangeable relationship among truck, rail and barge. Intermodal transport is a reliable mode, providing standardized transit schedules, low costs and easy access to equipment.

Reviewing 2016 Intermodal Predictions

Tony Hatch, a rail analyst at ABH Consulting, predicted that intermodal transport would surge in 2016 due to the ongoing driver shortage, its reputable, less damaging environmental impact, new, strict government mandates, and problems with the country’s eroding highway infrastructure.

Shippers, on the other hand, had low expectations for 2016 intermodal volume growth; they said they expected roughly a 1.5% increase in intermodal during 2016.

The ATA said intermodal transportation was predicted to grow at a rate of 6.6% per year until 2016. Through the end of the first half of 2016, intermodal containers and trailers were down 2.3% year-on-year.

Today’s intermodal situation demonstrates that positive forecasts for 2016 were off – traffic plunged during the first half of the year and commodities frequently moved on rail severely declined. The pressure of decreasing oil prices, the shift of import cargo from the West Coast to the East Coast, lower truckload rates and overcapacity, and a strong dollar created challenges for intermodal.

2017’s Intermodal Predictions

Next year’s intermodal predictions are positioned around growth. Technology innovations will set a standard for speed and service. According to the Association of American Railroads, rail accidents are at an all-time low and it is a direct effect of investments in new technologies. The ATA forecasts that intermodal transport will grow at a rate of 5.5% per year until 2022.

Carload and intermodal transportation will likely recover. Intermodal will gain traction when truck capacity tightens due to government mandates. Cyclical economic factors, like freight shortages in the industrial sector, will ultimately pick back up.

The Future of Rail

The ATA projected that rail transportation will see a decline in tonnage and revenue. By 2022, it may only account for 14.6% of the transportation industry, whereas in 2010, rail accounted for 15.3%.

The trucking industry is expected to see extremely tight capacity in 2017-2018. But, when autonomous trucks become common, there will be an abundance of capacity, generating a substantial decrease in OTR rates. So, as we move into the 2020s, being competitive with OTR transportation will only be more difficult for railroads.

Are There Benefits to Intermodal Transportation?

Shippers can take advantage of low rates, predictable pricing, and flexibility of loading and unloading goods in a dropped trailer environment.

To determine the effectiveness of intermodal for your company, analyze lanes and identify where your loads are going and where they come from. The longer the haul, the greater the opportunity for savings.

Rail transportation is energy efficient. With intermodal, moving freight costs less. Shippers can reduce their carbon footprint with intermodal; trains only emit approximately 5.4 pounds of carbon dioxide per 100 ton-miles, but trucks emit about 19.8 pounds.

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Sources: JOC, SupplyChainQuarterly

Intermodal Transportation Prepares for a Surge

Intermodal transportation prepares for a surge in freight volume due to the driver shortage, increased demand, heightened government regulations, environmental issues and the damaged highway infrastructure.

Intermodal and rail, once considered slow and undependable, are now defined by proficiency, economy and sustainability. Rail has regained transportation market share because it has the capacity, safety and rates that shippers are searching for. Through intermodal transportation, shippers realize the benefits of combining transportation modes for custom freight solutions. (Check out this to learn more: Shippers Turn to Intermodal for Savings).

Intermodal transportation is one solution to rising over-the-road (OTR) rates. Intermodal transportation enables shippers to take advantage of lower rates, a standardized transit schedule, flexibility with loading and unloading, and reduced handling costs. The cost savings intermodal transport provides shippers outweighs the speed of traditional OTR transport.

In 2011, intermodal container volume set a record with 12.4 million moves, surpassing 2007’s record year by nearly 4%. “Rail will be even more important to the national supply chain and rates will keep pace with inflation through 2016,” said Tony Hatch, ABH Consulting.

Cost and capacity are critical components to transportation management, so shippers are willing to trade lead time in order to gain space and price. Supply chains are better at accurately forecasting and responding to demand, which allows companies to arrange longer transportation moves.

Intermodal is an opportunity for shippers to leverage the efficiency of rail transport. Rail cars have been redesigned to handle bigger loads and specialized cargo. Companies who chose to apply intermodal transport to their transportation strategy will find improved efficiency, cost reduction and reduced environmental impact.

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What Is Intermodal Transportation & How Can It Benefit You?

What is intermodal transportation? What does intermodal mean?

Intermodal freight transportation is a combination of two or more different shipping modes like a truck, rail, ship or aircraft to move freight to the final destination. Also, in intermodal logistics and transportation, each carrier is responsible for a particular mode. Therefore, there are several freight bills from different carriers.

Shippers who move loads more than 750 miles, can add value to the overall supply chain. How? Try using different transportation modes, or intermodal, instead just OTR. The top 3 reasons for shippers to use intermodal transportation are lower costs, consistent capacity, and quality service.

What are the benefits of intermodal transportation?

Lower Costs

Companies can reduce transportation spend by moving freight in intermodal containers.  Using truck and rail provides major savings on fuel.  Trains use much less diesel than trucks, in fact, a train can move one ton of freight nearly 450 miles on one gallon of fuel.  Fuel can become a huge expense for long-haul trucking, but trains help ease the impact.  Not to mention, companies taking the initiative to reduce their carbon footprint.

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Read The Benefits of Intermodal Transport

Another money-saving feature of intermodal is the ability to ship in containers.  Containers do not require individual handling.  This reduces the transportation cost because you need to make very little effort to move a shipment from a truck to a train or a ship or any other combination.  Containers will fit easily into any mode and are easy to switch, which makes carriers more efficient.

Consistent Capacity

Intermodal transportation, especially truck and rail, provides reliable capacity.  There is less competition to secure freight for intermodal transport, which further lowers cost, but more importantly, offers capacity when and where it’s needed.

With the driver shortage and increased shipping activity, intermodal transport is increasingly appealing to shippers.  Rather than paying high rates to guarantee capacity, or bending over backward to accommodate carriers, companies can ship via intermodal any time, at a reasonable price.  This is a good way to overcome current problems in the trucking industry, where carriers are cranking up prices and slowing down service.

Quality Service

Possibly the biggest benefit of using intermodal transportation is the quality of service.  Intermodal is more resourceful than other modes.  Shippers have discovered that intermodal transportation is faster than OTR, as intermodal providers are increasing train speed and reduce the time for cars in the yard.

Read Intermodal vs Multimodal Freight


Intermodal transportation can also be safer and more secure for cargo.  Obviously, trains are on a fixed track and are less likely to be in an accident while carrying hazardous or highly combustible freight.  This means fewer restrictions on loading, unloading, and carrying dangerous materials, which speeds up the shipping process.  On a train, when containers drop down into the well, the doors cannot open, and when they’re double-stacked, the top container is 15 feet off the ground, making it difficult to reach.  And, cars are spending less time in the yard, which keeps freight moving.


Intermodal transportation is convenient, too.  Not only is capacity available when it is needed, and shippers find a 10 to 30 percent over trucking, but technological advances in the industry have made shipping intermodal just as efficient and reliable as shipping OTR.  Containers now have track and trace capabilities.  Shippers no longer have a 3-day span for delivery time and kept in the dark hoping their shipment made it.  Visibility into shipment status is the same as shipping OTR, making intermodal service selection easier and mode comparison more accurate.

Intermodal Transportation and Logistics

Intermodal transport is becoming popular very quickly.  A number of inefficiencies in OTR shipping are pushing shippers to find other ways to move their products.  Intermodal logistics provides a promising alternative.

For more information please visit our Intermodal Transportation page or submit your information to receive a free quote today!