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What is the difference between Transloading & Intermodal Shipping

Intermodal and Transloading shipping are two terms used interchangeably, but the difference between the two is subtle. The primary difference between the two terms is ‘what is transferred’, that is, intermodal shipping transfers a container between a truck and a train while transloading transfers goods between a truck and train to a container on a train.

Now that’s the primary difference between the two modes of shipping. Let’s look in brief at what Intermodal and Transloading Shipping are and their pros and cons.

Intermodal Shipping

Intermodal Shipping is the transportation of freight in an intermodal container or vehicle using different modes of transportation like rail, truck, ship, and aircraft. Technically speaking, intermodal shipping is the transfer of cargo between two or more modes of shipping. 

Shipments using rail are described as “intermodal shipping”. So, intermodal shipping refers to the transfer of containers between road carriers and rail carriers.

A typical real-life example of this process is as follows:

Containers are loaded on chassis after your goods have been containerized. A trucker picks up that chassis and drives it to a rail yard. Containers are removed from the chassis and loaded onto trains. At the destination, the process is repeated in reverse.

Therefore, Intermodal shipping is the movement of the container itself between truck and train.

Transloading Shipping

Shippers often confuse transloading with intermodal shipping without realizing the key differences between the two.

It is the container as opposed to the goods themselves that distinguish transloading shipping from intermodal shipping. Here’s how:

Unlike intermodal shipping, which involves moving the same container between a truck and a train, transloading shipping involves changing the conveyance.

In transloading, for example, goods might be loaded onto a truck, transferred to a transloading facility, removed from the truck, and dropped into a rail car. Alternatively, depending on the product, a pallet might be loaded into a train container after being transferred into a reefer container in a truck.

Pros & Cons of Intermodal Shipping

Intermodal shipping is favored around the world as it has a lot of advantages, yet there are disadvantages as well. 

Here are a few pros and cons of intermodal shipping:


  • Environment Friendly: In terms of sustainability, intermodal freight transportation has the greatest environmental impact. It is eco-friendly to use intermodal transportation, and rail transportation is more efficient, according to Investopedia. According to inbound logistics company in Dubai, the efficiency of rail transport allows one ton of freight to travel almost 450 miles on a gallon of fuel, which reduces greenhouse gas and carbon emissions. 
  • Large Capacity: Due to the operational flow, intermodal shipping can provide a lot of truckload solutions very rapidly for a shipper’s needs. Unlike truckload, where a driver usually has 2,000 to 3,000 miles before a new load, drayage usually stays below 100 miles, allowing a driver to turn several times on multiple loads to the intermodal ramp. Due to driver shortages, that can be beneficial.
  • Reduced Cost: Shippers benefit from increased flexibility, improved service, and lower costs by using rail for the long haul segment and trucks for the dray moves. As a result of combining the advantages of rail and truckload, a pricing advantage can be achieved and efficiency can be improved.
  • Reliable: A safe and secure method of transportation, intermodal transport eliminates the need to handle freight excessively during transportation. Increasing security at terminals, rail tracks, and ramps can be achieved by reducing the amount of cargo handling needed.


  • Not Suitable for Small Shipments: In smaller shipments, intermodal can be a hassle because of the volume required to obtain contractual pricing. The freight lane needs at least three loads a week to guarantee pricing and capacity for a year.
  • The combined weight of an intermodal container and the chassis is heavier than that of an over-the-road trailer. Some trucks use lighter chassis or containers, but shippers may not be able to load as much weight as they would with a truckload.
  • Blocking and Bracing Requirements: Intermodal containers often experience harmonic vibrations because of blocking and bracing requirements, which are often difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. It is possible for vibrations to move the contents of a shipment in the container horizontally as well as vertically.

Pros and Cons of Transloading Shipping


  • Routing flexibility through postponement
  • Less repositioning of empty containers
  • Added Value Activities like packing, sorting and labelling.


  • Risk of container damage
  • Risk of damage or theft of cargo during transloading
  • Less equipment available inland for export

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