All About Intermodal Freight Shipping & Digital Permit Book’s Role

What is Intermodal Freight Shipping?

Intermodal freight shipping can be classified as the mode of shipping used when the goods are to be transported through different means of transport rather than through one carrier. These multiple modes of transportation can be trucks, trailers, container ships, etc. The intermodal freight is transported in containers that comply with the International Organization for Standardization's (ISO) dimension rules. Due to this, only one shipping container can be used throughout an entire shipment. The intermodal containers come in three sizes:

  1. 20-foot-long container for international shipments.
  2. 40 feet long for international shipments.
  3. 53 feet long for domestic shipments.

These three different sizes of containers are beneficial as the goods don't have to be moved into a new container while they are being transported to different modes of transportation. The same container is used throughout the transportation, and items remain secure.

Intermodal Freight Shipping and its Categories:

To understand more about intermodal freight shipping, you should get to know about the different types of intermodal freight shipping that are carried out. There are 4 types of intermodal freight shipping. Intermodal freight shipping through truck, rail, sea, and air.

1. Intermodal freight shipping through truck:

Trucks are of great use when it comes to the transportation of steel freight containers. This is the first mode of transportation that intermodal shipping relies on and is used for getting the processes underway. Trucks are usually the last mode of transportation used for delivering the freight to its final destination.

2. Intermodal freight shipping through train:

Trains can be used for transporting hundreds of steel freight containers over thousands of miles at a relatively low cost.

3. Intermodal freight shipping through the sea:

This mode of freight shipping is the best way to ship large freight items across different continents and bodies of water.

4. Intermodal freight shipment through air:

It is the best mode used mostly in the second part of freight transportation as it is cost-effective and reliable. Through air, the freight is transported at a high speed as well.

Intermodal Freight Shipping and Containerization:

Containerization is the way of using special intermodal container assets, which are known as shipping containers. Shipping containers are an essential part of intermodal freight trucking. How can having shipping containers increase intermodal transportation?

This is a very important question when we talk about increment in intermodal freight transportation. The answer to this is linked to the advantages that shipping containers offer.

  • Mechanized equipment is used for loading and unloading the shipping containers. This is a much quicker and more efficient process than handling multiple pieces of irregularly shaped shipments or cargo.
  • Time efficiency is maintained as the containers are transferred over long distances by being shifted into trucks, trains, and other transportation in a very short time. This enables more and more freight to be transported.
  • Safety is maintained as the shipping containers are not opened during transfer. This increases customer support and increases intermodal freight transportation.
  • Intermodal freight transportation also increases as the shipping containers are perfectly designed to cover and protect the internal freight. The customers are satisfied when the shipping containers are used, and they choose intermodal freight transportation.

Before the use of shipping containers, ports and warehouses used to spend a great amount of time packing, sorting, and arranging the freight safely and securely; this cost a lot of time, a lot of freight transportation, and contracts as only a few contracts could be catered. However, intermodal freight transportation has seen a good boost due to the availability of shipping containers.

The Pros and Cons of Intermodal Freight Transportation:

Like any other type of trucking, intermodal transportation brings a lot of advantages and disadvantages. Let's talk about the benefits of transportation first. Intermodal transportation brings optimization to transportation routes by reducing the congestion on highways and main roads. Apart from this, intermodal freight transportation offers a more sustainable transportation solution, reducing the carbon emission linked to the freight movement. There are many other prominent advantages of intermodal freight transportation, which are as follows.


One of the greatest advantages of intermodal freight transportation is that it is cost-effective. Using different modes of transportation rather than only one to transport the freight reduces the cost significantly.

Increased capacity:

Intermodal freight transportation increases efficiency and capacity. Through the use of multiple modes of transportation, the shippers can move more freight in a single trip. This reduces the number of trips required and so reduces road congestion, making the transportation process more efficient.

Reduced transit time:

Through intermodal transportation, the time taken to transport the goods is reduced. Shippers can now move goods more securely and efficiently, and using a combination of trucks significantly reduces the time. This also happens as digital permit books are now available that store documents, permits, and other information on freight digitally. With the use of digital permit books, processes that take a long time on paper can be done electronically in minutes or seconds.

Improved security:

By using the different modes of transportation in intermodal transportation, the shippers reduce the risk of theft or damage to the goods. With the help of digital permit books, these shipments can be tracked, and a proper check can be kept on the shipment.

Now, let's look into some disadvantages that are associated with intermodal shipping.

The most significant disadvantages are mentioned as follows.

Complex Logistics:

The maintenance of proper communication between the loads being transported to different modes of transportation is difficult. The shipper should be an expert in handling this and should ensure that the goods are transferred efficiently and safely.

Potential for damage:

The goods must be packed safely and properly during intermodal transportation. The transfer of goods between different modes of transportation imposes the risk of goods being damaged.

Limited Flexibility:

Intermodal transportation is less flexible in comparison to other modes of transportation. The shippers need to follow a strict schedule, and they have limited control over the transportation process.

All About Intermodal Freight Rates:

To understand intermodal transportation better, it is essential to know about its pricing, rates per mile and much more. First, let's talk about the intermodal freight transportation rates per mile. The intermodal freight rates per mile are the combination of two costs, the line haul costs plus the fuel costs. Linehaul eliminates expenses such as dray from the origin warehouse site to the intermodal ramp, rail line haul costs, and interline fees if the freight is transported through multiple railroads. Fuel costs whereas are typically calculated using a matrix developed by the intermodal carrier. The intermodal cost per mile per statistic is around $2.21. Now, let's look into different types of intermodal freight prices. There are three types of intermodal freight prices.

1. Contract pricing:

Contract pricing comprises negotiations between intermodal contracts with an internal model carrier. Here, the carrier promises to deliver freight at a set rate for a set period.

2. Spot rate pricing:

This model comprises shippers negotiating the prices with the carriers as per the freight prices going on in the market.

3 Project pricing:

Project pricing is kept for special projects, such as when the shipment volume falls outside the normal volume. This allows shippers to negotiate favorable rates one time to get large volumes of shipment transferred.

The average income of the intermodal truck driver with 1-4 years of experience is around $50,000. This also increases if the driver is more experienced and skilled.

Intermodal Transportation vs Multimodal Transportation:

To compare the two, first, you need to understand multimodal transportation. Multimodal transportation is the transportation of freight by using more than one mode of transportation. However, in multimodal transportation, all transportation methods are encompassed by one carrier who solely looks over the transportation methods in shipment. Now, let's move towards analyzing the major difference between the two transportation models.

1. Contract: In intermodal transportation, a separate contract is required with each leg of the journey. In multimodal, only one contract is required through all legs of the journey.

2. Type of contract: Within intermodal transportation, the terms and conditions of contracts for each part of the journey are set between the shipper and one carrier. However in multimodal, these terms and conditions of only one contract between the shipper and the agent or the shipper and a carrier.

3. Distribution of responsibility: In intermodal transportation, the shipment's responsibility lies between different carriers. In multimodal transportation, this responsibility is on one carrier or shipper only.

4. Communication requirements: When the shipment is moved through intermodal transportation, communication is established between two or more carriers. Whereas in multimodal transportation the shippers only need to contact one agent or carrier.

5. Flexibility: In intermodal transportation, the shippers can choose which carrier will be looking for which leg of the journey, but in multimodal, the shipper or agent has to solely trust the carrier’s logistics.

These are the few crucial differences that make each mode of transportation stand out on its own and let the customer choose any one of the two modes as per their need.

The Impact of Digital Permit Books on Intermodal Freight Shipping

Intermodal freight shipping, with its reliance on various modes of transport, demands meticulous documentation and compliance. The integration of digital permit book stands out as a transformative force, revolutionizing traditional practices. Gone are the days of cumbersome paperwork; the digital revolution ensures precision and efficiency. These digital solutions facilitate real-time accessibility to permits, licenses, and critical documentation, fostering seamless communication among carriers navigating different modes of transport. The consistency of permits across various modes, dynamic updates, and efficient record-keeping are key advantages.


The summation of all the information concludes that intermodal freight transportation is another prospering field of the trucking industry. This is a great model for transportation when a bulk amount of goods needs to be transported safely. Like every other transportation model, intermodal freight transportation has both advantages and disadvantages, but in my opinion, the advantages surpass the disadvantages. As intermodal freight shipping continues to evolve, the adoption of digital permit books not only overcomes logistical challenges but also aligns with eco-friendly practices, contributing to a sustainable and interconnected future for the freight industry.

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