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The Key Role of Drayage Trucking in Intermodal

August 22, 2022 Kevin Baxter


While most imagery associated with intermodal freight rightly centers on the railroad, without drayage trucking, loads using this shipping mode would oftentimes be stuck at the ramp. Drayage trucking is the link between the origin and destination of intermodal containers. The railroad takes cargo the bulk of the intermodal journey, but to physically pick up and deliver products from factories, distribution centers, retailers, major ports and wherever else across North America, drayage service does the first mile/final mile job.

Let's back up through the shipping process a bit to explain why. Intermodal transport refers to the movement of goods between multiple modes of transportation - with the distinction that once cargo is packed into a container, it stays in the same one until it arrives at its final destination.

Those multiple modes tend to follow a common formula: truck - rail - truck, with drayage trucking equipped with specialized chassis used to move cargo the short haul distance - optimized at 50 miles or less - from its origin to a rail ramp, aka the first mile. Then, the long haul journey - optimized at 700 miles or more - takes place on a freight train before another specialized container drayage truck picks the box up from the ramp to take it the rest of the way to its destination, aka the final mile.

What is the difference between drayage and trucking?

The difference between drayage and trucking is that drayage is generally trucking in some form but not all trucking is drayage. In other words, drayage means in essence short haul trucking, and in the case of intermodal shipping, carrying a container a short distance to or from a rail hub. Pier drayage can also refer to a similar short-haul transport of goods from an ocean port to another facility.

Either way, this is different from trucking as its own freight mode, as in that form of transport, the truck takes products all the way from point A to point B, traveling long haul distances.

Drayage shipping is sort of an unsung supply chain hero, as while it may not be well known among the general public, it's a key cog in keeping freight moving between ports and rail ramps. When shortages of drivers for drayage companies or equipment occur, containers and the goods contained within can find themselves sitting for extended periods, leading to product shortages.

At InTek Freight & Logistics, we have relationships with class I railroads and drayage providers to make intermodal transportation work. Let us know what you're looking for and we'll talk solutions for your business. Rather do a bit more research first? Visit our Learning Center for videos, articles and eBooks on all things freight and logistics.

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