Looking at Google searches, a common question in freight and logistics is "What is transloading vs. intermodal?" The question shows many are confused about the distinction between the two, and rightfully so. Both typically associate with the movement of freight between truckload and railroad - and sometimes steamship as well. But there's one key distinction. In traditional intermodal transport, the load never leaves its original container. As in, the shipper packs a container and it goes across two or three modes all in that same container from origin until it reaches its destination. In transloading, goods may travel the exact same route across two or three modes again, but they'll be unpacked from an original container to either another container or a trailer, depending on how they travel and capacity. Transloading is associated with intermodal because there's very often a rail component to the journey of transloaded freight. But why go over this distinction now you might ask. Because with a still challenged container and chassis environment, transloading could be many shippers' best option to keep freight moving.
Transloading as a Solution
Transloading is a clear solution to problems of container shortages and lack of chassis availability. In addition to many other previously documented advantages transloading offers, it allows shippers to get their freight out of containers faster and keep shipments moving. While the container shortage itself seems to have generally peaked, a container shortage redux is always a possibility. In which case, transloading freight allows containers to return to circulation faster. The next (and current) challenge related to containers especially pertaining to intermodal is an ongoing chassis shortage. With well-documented issues of containers being stuck at ramps or ports, racking up fees with no chassis available, as well as cases of drop deliveries where container & chassis combos are left at a recipient's facility, transloading can solve those problems. Transloading shipments when pertaining to rail involves some combination of
Loading products onto a truck
Taking products to a transload facility
Transferring the products (usually via pump, crane or forklift) to a rail car (a tank car, flat car or box car)
If needed following the rail portion of the trip, products are transferred back to trucks for final delivery
In these scenarios, much like intermodal, rail would handle the longest portion of the trip, while trucks would cover getting goods to/from the transload facility - though in some cases a transport can involve intermodal for part of the journey and transloading for another part. This is similar with ocean containers, and with on dock rail struggling in major ports like NY/NJ and Los Angeles at different points this year, transloading has become a popular option in those cases as well.
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