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Inland Ports and Retail Imports - A Matching Pair Blog Feature
Kevin Baxter

By: Kevin Baxter on March 16th, 2022

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Inland Ports and Retail Imports - A Matching Pair

Logistics & Supply Chain

Retail imports are as high as ever, and congestion at ocean ports has become the norm, rather than the exception. So major retailers in search of a solution either already are, or probably should be, turning to inland ports. The use of inland ports - like many supply chain activities - has grown in recent years. And retailers well-versed in logistics have already made these a key feature of their supply chains as they deal with heavy retail import volume. So just what are inland ports and what do they have to do with retail imports? Read on for more information.

What are inland ports and their advantages?

Inland ports are locations where international loads are taken by rail directly from seaports, allowing most processing and then distribution activities to occur from there. These facilities, sometimes referred to as dry ports, are also intermodal centers. Using intermodal transport, imports make their way to these dedicated facilities not constrained by the additional traffic of ocean ports. In fact, retailers have tended toward these inland ports as they allow for the efficient combination of import and distribution activities at one location - allowing them to be used as smaller distribution centers to bypass the larger DC step. On top of that, they allow for additional storage capabilities as that capacity at seaports is notoriously tight.

While all inland ports are intermodal centers, the reverse is not true. Some key factors that make a location an inland port are:

  • Proximity to at least 3 million people within 200 miles
  • A direct, Class I railroad connection to a major seaport
  • Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) status & privileges
  • A governing body 

Inland ports often serve only one associated seaport, but they aren't necessarily close by. Some are very near the coast in states like California, the Carolinas, and Virginia, while others are much further inland, like Chicago, Dallas, Memphis and St. Louis.

How do retailers use inland ports?

Major retailers with sophisticated logistics operations have long used inland ports to speed up processing and distribution of their retail imports. And with the added layer of ecommerce, inland ports can provide valuable staging for last mile (AKA final mile) deliveries direct to customers. A few retailers who make heavy use of inland ports include the heavy-hitters of Amazon, Wal-Mart and Home Depot to help speed their retail import processing away from the congested seaports. Retailers and others who use inland ports also realize the added benefit that rail transport is better for the environment. So instead of trucks idling away at the seaport and then driving individual containers or loads directly from there, several containers can go directly onto a train and cut over the road miles down considerably. 

Curious about using inland ports yourself, or have other freight and logistics needs? Let us know and we'll talk about how InTek Freight & Logistics can help you.

Visit our Learning Center for more on all things shipping and supply chain. And here are a few comprehensive pieces explaining intermodal and truckload shipping options:

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