And intermodal shipping is better prepared to handle surges in demand, because of speed and improved reliability. “Shippers can benefit from lower costs compared to over-the-road methods, scalable capacity, a greener transportation method and predictable schedules,” says Mnichowski. “Another benefit is increased security due to the general public not having easy access rail yards or container ports.”
While intermodal rail shipments can clearly translate into reduced highway congestion and reduced emissions, those aren’t the biggest improvements available. “Over the long run the ability to control costs is a primary driver that will benefit customers and consumers, says Mnichowski.
Throughout the supply chain, it’s cost-control benefits that seem to provide intermodal with a significant competitive advantage. “Because of the service and reliability we deliver, our customers can more tightly manage their supply chains, resulting in reduced inventory costs,” says Lange. “That helps our customers be more competitive with price-conscious consumers, especially given today’s economic climate.”
Intermodal In The Industry
While they’re not regarded as an intermodal service provider, Railex has been making an impact on the beverage industry. The company uses unit trains of refrigerated cars to provide five-day, non-stop, coast-to-coast rail service from Delano, CA and Wallula, WA to Rotterdam, NY. By loading and unloading freight in temperature-controlled distribution centers, their state-of-the-art offering goes beyond current intermodal capabilities, providing point-to-point service that constantly keeps the cold chain intact.
The Railex wine program is utilized with many of the wine-producing vineyards, bottling facilities and warehouses in California, Oregon and Washington State, says Steve Poindexter, director of business trade development. Since deliveries go to every major receiver in the northeast and eastern Canada, Railex also makes its cost effective, expedited solutions available to beer shippers.
In addition to offering a platform that provides inventory visibility, optimum handling and supply chain management, Railex equips its rail cars with global positioning system (GPS) technology to track shipment location and precisely control temperatures and airflow.
The freshness of products sent using the Railex platform will be apparent to consumers, says Poindexter. “The difference in a wine product shipped in a temperature controlled environment versus shipped in dry trucks where temperatures can reach 100-plus degrees are dramatic.”
Railex’s versatility enables it to offer mixed-load capabilities to a variety of shippers. Its service integrates separate temperature-zoned cars that can accommodate a variety of products.
Poindexter also points to the benefits their customers enjoy, including cost saving of 12 to 18 percent in comparison to over-the-road pricing. “With our model, there is considerably less trauma to the product, carbon and fossil fuels are reduced between 45 and 55 percent, there’s reduced traffic congestion, along with roadway wear and tear.”
California produce is also making the 3,300 cross-country trip via intermodal rail service provided by Union Pacific. These perishable commodities are packed into refrigerated boxcars equipped with GPS technology, which protects products by keeping temperatures within a two-degree variance until the train arrives in Schenectady, NY, 128 hours later.
When Union Pacific started weekly high-speed, refrigerated intermodal rail delivery of California fruits and vegetables, it was more than an example of its reliability. The shipments also marked a milestone in the century-long evolution of the company’s service. It was the first time that they carried produce—which included peppers, grapes and celery—in rail cars since the interstate highway system was built.
These intermodal produce deliveries are also models of efficiency. Union Pacific estimates that it would take more than 200 long-haul trucks to match the freight capabilities of its 55-car train. A single rail shipment also conserves approximately 100,000 fewer gallons of diesel fuel and, according to EPA estimates, reduces CO2 emissions by 85,000 metric tons a year.