Guide to container railroad transportation

Exploring Container Railroad Transportation: Essential Guide for Shippers and Logistics Professionals

Railroad transportation involves shipping goods from one place to another using trains. Containers are loaded onto railcars to ship them across long distances cost-effectively and suitably. Railroad transportation facilitates intermodal transportation of goods and can ship various types of goods in one trip. The US has an extensive network of rails that assists traders in the country in effectively shipping their goods loaded into different types of shipping containers. Trains are one of the safest and most efficient modes of transporting goods. Let us learn more about railroad transportation. 

About container railroad transportation  

A railroad is a transportation structure in which rail tracks are permanently laid on designated roads to allow easy movement of trains for commercial purposes. Railroads are meant for land transportation of goods and passengers from one place to another. Many countries and cities have vast rails running across and connecting far-off places. These can be built and maintained by private as well as government organisations. 

In the global trade industry, railroads play a dynamic role in transporting different types of shipping containers. If the containers are meant for domestic or national use, railroads are a great, cost-effective shipping option for importers and exporters. The USA is the largest importer and second largest exporter of goods and, therefore, has a diverse railway network to facilitate intermodal shipping across the country and globe. A significant portion of trade in the US uses the railroad transportation system. Let us learn more about the types of cargo transported using railroads. 

What is the most common cargo for railroads to transport? 

Different types of cargo are transported inside various shipping containers, such as dry van containers, tank containers and double-door containers. These are ISO-standard containers that are suitable for intermodal transportation using railroads. A few examples of goods transported using railroads are- 

  1. Bulk commodities – Goods such as coal, ore, minerals, and agricultural products like grains are loaded into dry van containers for railroad transportation across the country. The ability to move large quantities of these goods efficiently makes rails an ideal mode of transport. 
  2. Heavy machinery and automobiles53ft intermodal containers are best suited for loading high-volume goods, automobiles, or heavy machinery. Railroads have the potential to accommodate large shipping containers, such as 53-foot containers, easily. 
  3. Chemicals – Tank containers are used to containerise cargo such as petrochemicals, gases, and other hazardous chemicals. Flexitanks in shipping are also used as derivatives for tank containers that hold liquid cargo and are transported using rails. 
  4. Forest materials – Non-containerised cargo such as timber and other sorts of wood are loaded on the train chassis and secured for transport using railroads. The construction industry relies on trains to transport forest essential raw materials. 
  5. Consumer goods – Electrical appliances, clothes, and other manufactured products can be distributed across regional consumer markets. These goods are packed in standard 20ft or 40ft shipping containers, allowing easy intermodal transportation using railroads. 

What are the advantages of using railroads for long-distance container transport? 

Importers and exporters across the US depend on railroads for long-distance transport of goods. Let’s learn more about the benefits of railroad transportation. 

  1. Cost-effectiveness – Shippers prefer transportation via railroad mainly due to its cost-effectiveness compared to other modes of transport, especially for long-distance transit. Trains have several coaches to accommodate large cargo volumes in a single trip, reducing the cost per ton-mile. 
  2. Efficiency in the supply chain– Rail transport is highly efficient for bulk commodities that are not time-sensitive, such as coal, minerals, iron-ores, or agricultural products. Many such goods can be efficiently moved across cities and regions using railroad transportation. 
  3. Sustainable shipping– Trains are more fuel efficient and require low fuel consumption per tonne mile. This helps minimise carbon emissions in shipping and makes trains a sustainable means of long-distance transport. 
  4. Reduces highway congestion– By utilising the rail network, the burden from highways and trucking services gets divided. Using trains for transportation helps improve traffic flow, reduce road maintenance costs, and decrease wear and tear on road infrastructure. 
  5. Intermodal connectivity– Railroad transport is commonly used for intermodal transportation across the country. It helps facilitate the seamless transfer of containers between trains, trucks, and ships. This helps offer logistics flexibility and enhances the efficiency of the overall transportation system. 

What is intermodal transportation using railroads? 

Intermodal transportation is transporting freight containers by switching between the modes of transportation in a one-way trip. Using more than one mode of transportation, such as rail, road, sea, and air, accounts for intermodal transportation. ISO (International organisation for standardisation) -built standard containers are suitable for being accommodated on all means of transport and do not require loading and unloading into different containers while switching modes of transport.  

For example, if an exporter wants to ship goods to any remote location across the globe, inaccessible to trains, ships, or planes and too far to be covered by trucks, they can opt for intermodal shipping. Shippers, freight forwarders, or shipping companies load the goods on trucks to reach the designated transportation hub or ports. The goods in shipping containers are then moved to the second mode of transport for further transportation, which can be by train, ship, or plane. Upon reaching the destination, the importer receives the shipment or is again loaded onto trucks for door-to-door service to the importer’s chosen location. In some instances, transhipment of goods is from one train to another. 

Importance of intermodal transportation using trains 

  • Intermodal transportation is an integral part of the logistics and supply chain. It is vital for optimising logistics, improving efficiency, and reducing costs.  
  • This transportation promotes sustainable and resilient supply chains by streamlining the logistics and transport process.  
  • Intermodal shipping has become a critical component in modern transportation systems that helps reach all remote locations.  
  • Shippers across the globe use intermodal shipping for the international transport of their goods and find it an appropriate method for door-to-door service.  
  • E-commerce trade greatly depends on intermodal transport. 

    Process of railroad transportation  

    The movement of goods via rail has been made more accessible for shippers. Let us learn more about the railroad transportation process. 

    • Shippers, freight forwarders, or 4PL service providers must book their space on the train based on their schedule. Bill of lading is a standard procedure in shipping using other modes of transport, but rail waybill is used for transporting shipping containers using trains. It also includes fixing transportation schedules and collaborating with other modes of transport incase of intermodal transport. 
    • Container loading occurs when goods are positioned inside the shipping container and carried to the station using trucks. There, the containers are loaded onto the railcars capable of accommodating the weight of the shipping container. 
    • The movement of goods can be tracked throughout the process to offer real-time visibility to the shipper and consignee. 
    • Upon reaching the destination station, trucks move goods that must be transported elsewhere for last-mile delivery. 

      Container railroad transportation allows shippers to transport their goods cost-effectively. LOTUS Containers sells different types of shipping containers in various sizes that can be easily utilised for railroad transportation.

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