Take The Alternate Route

Shipping by rail and intermodal controls costs, takes trucks off highways.


Shipping by rail and intermodal controls costs, takes trucks off highways.

As fuel prices rise and food and beverage companies look for ways to stretch their transportation budgets, rail and intermodal become competitive options. Removing freight trucks from the roads also alleviates congested highways across the nation and eliminates thousands of pounds of emissions from our air.

According to data provided by the Association of American Railroads, trains are nearly four times more fuel efficient than trucks. A train can move a ton of freight an average of 480 miles on a single gallon of fuel.

Furthermore, a single intermodal train can take 280 trucks—the equivalent of 1,100 cars—off the highway. The United States could save one billion gallons of fuel each year just by moving 10 percent of its long-haul freight from truck to rail, , according to a study by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Greater fuel efficiency, high-speed delivery times, state-of-the-art equipment and excellent customer service are all reasons why today’s food and beverage companies are turning to rail and intermodal for their transportation needs.

Intermodal Advantage

Intermodal is the shipment of goods from a single origin to a single destination utilizing more than one mode of transportation. It combines the best of trucks and trains by hauling containers or trailers long distance by rail, and using local-based tractors to make the final delivery.

Intermodal shipping volumes accelerated throughout 2010, posting an overall 17.2 percent year-over-year increase during the second quarter.

A major player in the U.S. intermodal shipping market is Norfolk Southern. The company operates an extensive intermodal network in the East, including 58 terminals in 35 markets and on-dock and near dock rail services at all major East Coast ports.

Ed Elkins, director of intermodal marketing, sales and domestic for Norfolk Southern, based in Norfolk, VA, says one key to its success has been increasing the double-stack capacity of its rail network to provide shippers with high-speed, reliable, premium service.

“Virtually our entire network now is double-stack capable, including the new Heartland Corridor,” says Elkins. “With the completion of the clearance projects along the Heartland Corridor, we’ve essentially doubled our capacity on this route, reduced the effective distance travelled between major markets, and efficiently diverted some traffic from other high density corridors.”

Infrastructure improvements also help Norfolk Southern provide the highest customer service and speed. The Heartland Corridor, opened in September 2010, is the shortest, fastest route for double-stacked intermodal container trains moving between the Port of Virginia and the Midwest. The new routing improves transit time from Norfolk, VA, to Chicago by 42 hours and is 230 miles shorter than previous routings.

Salt Lake City-based C.R. England, one of the largest providers of refrigerated transportation in the nation, has also made improvements to its intermodal business recently. It’s in the midst of growing its refrigerated intermodal fleet from 300 to 600—all of the additional units will be double-stack containers.

Zach England, vice president, intermodal for C.R. England, says overcoming the stigma that product could be left on a side track and significantly delayed can be a challenge. But today’s intermodal carriers utilize the latest technology to give their customers transparency regarding the location of their shipments.

“The individual railroads have websites where you can track your shipments,” says England. “This technology has helped shippers realize intermodal is just as safe and as high quality a service as over the road.”

Although intermodal shipping uses tractors for part of its haul, it is an attractive option for any company seeking to reduce its emissions from truck exhaust.

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