Between a variety of recent supply chain disruptions and ongoing labor shortages, the transportation and logistics sectors still often struggle to keep up. In fact, talent gaps in the trucking industry have become so disruptive that lawmakers hope to pass legislation offering tax credits to U.S. truck drivers in an effort to address the situation. As companies continue to evolve and safeguard their supply chains against future disruptions, many are looking for ways to optimize their logistics processes and lower costs. For countless enterprises, a combination of intermodal transportation approaches is keeping the nation’s supply chains moving swiftly.
Intermodal transportation involves the use of two or more modes of transportation to move goods throughout the supply chain. The most common path in the intermodal transportation process includes a combination of truck, rail, and ship transport. The goods are moved in specialized, standardized steel containers, making them easier to handle and able to move more quickly from one mode of transportation to another. For example, it is common for certain products to be moved across the country by trains before being transferred to trucks for the “last mile” of the process.
The benefits of intermodal transportation are numerous:
- Faster delivery times – Intermodal transportation can reduce delivery times. The specialized containers allow for goods to be moved from one mode of transportation to the next very quickly, and businesses have the ability to use the fastest mode of transportation based on the route for the longest stretch of the delivery process.
- Reduced shipping costs – Intermodal transportation is typically the go-to shipping strategy when looking to lower costs. For example, rail travel over long stretches consumes far less fuel than the equivalent number of trucks.
- Improved safety for products and people – Because of the containers used in intermodal transportation, once the product is safely packed it does not need to be handled again until it nears its destination — significantly lowering product damage rates. And a reduction in the number of trucks on the road statistically reduces the possibility of accidents — which means increased safety for both professional drivers and other motorists.
- Environmental benefits – Shipping cargo by sea is more fuel-efficient than air transport, while transportation by train keeps fewer trucks on the roadways.
The intermodal transportation industry is not without its challenges. Much of the nation’s roads, rail lines, and port infrastructure is becoming antiquated, which is why the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has been welcome news for many stakeholders throughout the supply chain. Transportation that involves outdated infrastructure can involve delays and inefficiencies. Security is another concern; an investigation into rail cargo thefts that concluded last year netted more than 90 arrests and resulted in the recovery of $18 million worth of merchandise.
But with consumer demand remaining high and an ongoing need for increased efficiency, improved sustainability, and lower transportation costs, an intermodal transportation network remains the best option for a vast array of products. As major investments are made in the nation’s infrastructure and supply chain security in the coming years, we can expect this sector to evolve and grow.
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