6 Surprising Advantages of Rail Transport Over Road Transport
Road transport is a very popular mode for freight, but for certain loads, the advantages of railways are too great to ignore. If your shipment is moving over 1,000 miles and isn’t time sensitive, rail transport can be a very efficient solution for your supply chain.
Here are some advantages of rail transport over road transport to consider:
1. Rail transport can be cost effective. Shippers who convert long-haul freight from road to rail, can save 10–40%. Rail has lower fuel costs compared to road transport, especially when shipping a high volume of freight. Rail also has less costs associated with drivers and typically has better costs for drop trailer programs.
2. Shipping via train is more environmentally friendly. Trains burn less fuel per ton mile than trucks. According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), freight railroads can move one ton of freight an average of 479 miles on a single gallon of fuel. On top of that, using rail transport over road transport can lower greenhouse gas emissions by 75%.
3. Trains are capable of hauling large loads. Trains can handle high volumes of freight. In fact, one double-stacked train can hold approximately the same amount as 280 trucks. This can be very beneficial for shippers with large loads.
4. Railways are reliable. Railways have standardized transit schedules and don’t share their tracks with the public like trucks do with the road. For that reason, trains aren’t hindered by traffic and weather the same way trucks are.
5. Rail freight can be efficient. For many types of loads, the average transit time is comparable to that of road transport. While rail shouldn’t be used for time-sensitive shipments, it can provide very similar transit times for longer hauls.
6. Rail options provide you with access to capacity. OTR capacity is tight. The driver shortage, HOS restrictions, and current market demand can make it hard for shippers to find a truck when they need it without paying an arm and a leg. Since rail transport can be more efficient and doesn’t have the same kind of limitations, this is a great way for shippers to find capacity.
Limitations of rail
While rail transport can be a great solution for many shippers, it isn’t for every load. There are some limitations to consider. First, the shipper and the consignee should be no more than 100–200 miles from a major metro area that has a terminal. Also, there aren’t guaranteed transit times, so it’s not recommended for time-sensitive loads.
You also want to make sure that you aren’t trying to ship prohibited or restricted articles. Prohibited articles include commodities that are dangerous or could damage equipment, like carbon black, raw animal hides, and used auto parts that leak. Restricted commodities require permission ahead of time and may be constrained to certain lanes or subject to different pricing.
In addition, it’s incredibly important that you are using the proper block and brace techniques. Intermodal containers experience a great deal of movement during transit that could cause damages. If you haven’t blocked and braced your freight by rail standards you run the risk of a denied claim.
Rail as part of an intermodal strategy
Using rail transport as part of an intermodal strategy can have significant benefits. Intermodal is the use of two or more modes for transporting freight. When combining road and rail, trains are used for the long-haul portion of the shipment. Trucks are used to bring freight from the origin to the terminal and then from the terminal to the destination, which is referred to as drayage. Commodities that are typically moved via intermodal rail include electronics, clothes, machinery, plastics, and lumber.
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