Temp-Controlled Intermodal Shipping: Why Resistance is Thawing

LDL Voice

As food and beverage shippers across North America find it increasingly difficult to secure cost-effective, long-haul truck capacity, rail/intermodal solutions are gaining traction. While many bulk commodity and dry goods shippers have long considered rail a viable option, that hasn’t always been the case for more specialized freight—like refrigerated perishable foods with strict temperature requirements. Today, more and more shippers are looking at refrigerated intermodal as an integral part of their portfolio.

New & Improved Equipment

Railroad companies have been making significant investments in more sophisticated refrigeration equipment in the past few years. For example, Canadian National Railway Company recently purchased 200, 53-foot domestic refrigerated containers, greatly expanding their cold chain capacity for North American food and beverage shippers. Union Pacific, CSX, and other companies have made similar investments. These new temperature-controlled containers are lighter, more fuel efficient, and more cost-effective than traditional trailer-on-flatcar (TOFC) solutions (Food Logistics).

Fewer Temperature Violations

Remote temperature monitoring and improved GPS tracking technology are also driving more food to rail. By some estimates, spoilage of perishable foods accounts for $35B in annual global waste, and about 50% of that is due to temperature violations (ChainLink Research). Quality and safety of food products are of utmost importance during transit, and improved technology allows for accurate temperature readings, exception-based alerts, and real-time geo-tracking across modes to ensure perishable goods maintain freshness.

Highway-Competitive Transit Times

The past hurdle of slow transit times has been greatly reduced for intermodal rail. This is largely due to greater coordination and collaboration among third-party logistics providers, railroads, and OTR carriers. Further, more rail carriers are running unit train operations, which allows for much faster service since cars are not split up or stored for extended periods while en route (Food Logistics).

Service Provider Checklist

While temperature-controlled intermodal services have made great strides in the past few years, it’s important to remain cautious when shipping perishable foods via rail. Make sure you’re working with logistics partners who can help you devise an intermodal solution that fits your needs. Below are some questions to ask your service provider before opting for temperature-controlled intermodal:

  • Do you have established relationships with Class I railroads?
  • Can you coordinate first-mile and final-mile truck transportation?
  • Do you install tracking devices that provide inside and outside ambient temperature, fuel level, and global positioning information?
  • For TOFC service, do you understand cutoff/availability times at terminals, and will you spec the reefer trailer by putting lift pads on it?
  • Will you be in constant communication with me, especially if there is a change to the agreed-upon service?

Whether you’re looking for surge capacity, inbound solutions, or dedicated outbound capacity, intermodal provides a viable alternative to over-the-road shipping.

LoadDelivered offers a wide range of intermodal solutions to help you secure capacity, stabilize pricing, and tightly monitor your temperature-controlled shipments. We provide real-time, automated location and event updates through satellite monitoring and online tracking to ensure you have complete visibility into your shipments at all times. Contact us to learn more. 

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