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It pays to be green! Shipping via rail (intermodal) instead of over the road

We recently had to ship a trailer of books from the Midwest to our location in Los Angeles.

We used a shipping container and had it transported by rail most of the way. We saved $1,603.72 or 41%. It was about two days slower and the container does have to be lifted on and off the rail car which does create additional forces exerted on your goods but if you goods are well packed this should be no problem.

How is this green?

In terms of fuel efficiency, railroads are three times more fuel-efficient than trucks.

A study of 50 major U.S. metro areas by transportation consultant Wendell Cox found that the diversion of 25 percent of truck freight to rail would lead, by 2025, to:
  • 2.8 billion fewer traveler-hours wasted in congested traffic
  • A savings of 16 billion gallons of fuel
  • Nearly 800,000 fewer tons of air pollution.


This data is from the Union Pacific web site - http://www.uprr.com/newsinfo/releases/environment/2006/0428_fuel_economy.shtml

More data:

Shipping containers to a sea port area (in our case, Los Angeles) can be particularly environmentally friendly because they would normally be going back empty. They also are more environmentally friendly than a truck trailer on flat car (TOFC) because the railroad does not have to haul the suspension (wheels, suspension and parking legs) and there is less aerodynamic(air) drag than from trailers riding high on their wheels on a flat car. This is also better for the cargo in the trailer because it is not swaying around on two suspension systems.

Some areas have no railheads that can handle containers and you have to use a trailer on flat car. This is still very much more fuel efficient and less expensive than over the road trucking over a long distance.

All of the major railroads provide both container shipping and trailer on flat car. JB Hunt is a US trucking company that uses containers. Two other trucking companies that provide intermodal service are: Schneider and Swift.



If you are shipping between the select areas in the Midwest and the eastern United States you can use a system provide by Triple Crown® Services. They use trailers which ride on the road and the rail. They have retractable pneumatic (air) suspensions that sit on railroad wheel assemblies. These form a very aerodynamic train that is lighter than containers on a railway car and you cargo arrives in great shape because the trailers do not have to be lifted with a crane. Their hub is in Fort Wayne, Indiana and they serve the following cities by rail from there: Atlanta 2 days, Bethlehem - 2 days, Dallas - 3 days, Harrisburg - 2 days, Jacksonville - 3 days, Kansas City - 2 days, Minneapolis - 2 days, St. Louis - 2 days.

You do not have to be a big shipper to get competitive rates you can use one of many brokers who give great rates.

If you are shipping a pallet or less worth of goods you can also use UPS ground which uses trailers on flat car on many of it’s routes. On smaller shipments of 200 pounds to 500 pounds their prices are sometimes competitive however via truck the pallet normally take the abuse and not the individual boxes. Shipping pallets via truck is called less than truck load (LTL). As of 2010 YRC (Yellow and Roadway combined) uses trailers on flat cars (TOFC) on many of their western routes. ABF, FedEx, UPS Freight and possibly other LTL carriers also use TOFC.



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