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Enhancing Intermodal Shipping: The Power of Real-Time Visibility

August 25, 2023

April 29, 2024


x min read

Intermodal shipping—the transportation of freight using multiple modes of rail, ship, aircraft, and truck—is transforming the world of logistics. With efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and sustainability at its core, this method is gaining traction across North America, making it a game-changer for shippers.

Why should you care? This revolution in logistics goes beyond merely moving goods; it's reshaping the future of shipping to become more environmentally friendly, economical, and dependable. However, it comes with inherent risks. This article explores these risks and the transformative role of real-time visibility technology in solving them.

The Efficiency of Intermodal Shipping

Intermodal shipping benefits shippers by merging efficiency with sustainability—especially compared to traditional long-haul trucking.

Environmental Benefits, Emission Reduction & Lower Fuel Consumption

Intermodal shipping using trains is hailed for its environmental benefits by the Association of American Railroads. Fuel efficiency can be four times greater than trucks, has improved 82% since 1980, and can slash greenhouse gas emissions by 75%. Moreover, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that 1,000-mile intermodal trips cut emissions by as much as 65% compared to highways, and converting from truckload to intermodal further drops CO2 emissions by 30%.   

Traffic Congestion & Material Efficiency

Intermodal shipping also champions environmental benefits through various means beyond emissions control. By easing highway traffic, it reduces pollution from congestion. Using reusable steel or aluminum containers also enhances weight and space efficiency and supports broader sustainability efforts. Once their shipping life ends, it's possible to repurpose or recycle these containers and prevent landfill build-up, further contributing to environmental protection.

Challenges in Intermodal Shipping

The multifaceted nature of intermodal shipping brings forth several challenges that impact the efficiency and reliability of this transportation method.  

Challenges and Complexities

  • Speed Issues: Intermodal transportation often takes longer due to multiple transport modes, deterring urgency-focused shippers.
  • Tracking Difficulties: Limited technical capabilities create blind spots in container tracking, a key concern in intermodal shipping.
  • Lack of Reliability: Delays from bad weather or equipment failure, particularly in rail, can lead to service inconsistency.
  • High Infrastructure Costs: Substantial expenses in infrastructure further complicate the adoption of intermodal transportation.
  • Operational Complexity: Combining different transport modes adds complexity, impacting shippers’ control over the end-to-end process.
  • Delivery Challenges: Delays and inconsistent frequency in intermodal transportation can disrupt timely deliveries.
  • Risk of Damage: Hand-offs and transitions between modes  can increase the risk of damaged goods during shipping.
  • Cargo Theft and Security: Intermodal shipping faces security challenges, as freight at rest is freight at risk. With a large percentage of cargo theft incidents occurring in rail yards and other places where freight changes hands, this threat demands vigilant prevention and response.

Recent Incidents & Examples

In March 2023, Los Angeles and Long Beach ports became jammed with an unprecedented 97% congestion. Picture this: 30 container ships a day waiting in line outside the ports, a vivid illustration of intermodal shipping's struggles with speed and reliability. The situation grows more complex with container shortages in key inland rail hubs such as Chicago, Dallas, Memphis, Jacksonville, and Kansas City. Add a 7.3% yearly dip in intermodal activity, and you see a perfect storm, underscoring an urgent need for innovative solutions.  

The Role of Technology in Intermodal Shipping

Intermodal shipping is an intricate process that necessitates implementing modern technological solutions to mitigate challenges and enhance efficiency.

How Real-Time Shipment Visibility Mitigates Risks in Intermodal Shipping

Real-time visibility is the crown jewel among the myriad technologies enhancing intermodal shipping. It allows seamless, end-to-end tracking (at the item level) across various transportation modes like ships, trains, and trucks and enables instant access to precise location data, minimizing the risk of damage and theft. Moreover, real-time visibility lifts transit predictability to a new level, allowing shippers to actively manage their shipments and take proactive measures in the case of delays.

Enhancing Intermodal Shipping with Tive's Real-Time Visibility

Tive's Solo 5G trackers bring real-time visibility to the forefront of intermodal shipping. Integrated seamlessly with existing transportation systems, these trackers not only offer accurate ETAs for better transit predictability but also provide immediate alerts for security issues, minimizing theft risks. This adaptability adds control and reliability, preventing potential damage and giving peace of mind to all involved in the shipping process.

QuickSTAT Case Study

QuickSTAT, a leader in healthcare supply chain logistics, faced an urgent dilemma: safeguarding critical shipments like Cell and Gene Therapies, essential study medications, and Direct-To/From-Patient clinical trials across diverse transportation modes. A break in visibility could jeopardize patient care and trust. Addressing this challenge, Tive introduced their cutting-edge Solo 5G trackers and integrated systems. These tools adeptly tackled the blind spots in air and ocean shipments, granting real-time data in traditionally tough terrains. Thanks to Tive, QuickSTAT achieved almost 100% international shipment visibility, reinforcing the integrity of their crucial healthcare deliveries.

The Path Forward: Realizing the Potential of Intermodal Shipping

By combining different forms of transportation, intermodal shipping is gaining popularity for its environmental and economic edge over long-haul trucking. Although it has challenges, such as potential delays and damage, the right real-time shipment tracking technology can bring more reliability and security.

Enter Tive, a trailblazer in real-time supply chain visibility. To learn more about applying real-time visibility to improve intermodal shipping, please check out our free guide   “How to Reduce Intermodal Shipping Risk with Real-Time Visibility,” This playbook examines how technology can transform intermodal shipping, making it more efficient, safer, and in tune with the environment. Read the complete report here and discover how to make it work for you.

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