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What Is Intermodal Shipping?

Intermodal shipping refers to moving freight by two or more modes of transportation.

By loading cargo into intermodal containers, shipments can move seamlessly between trucks, trains and cargo ships. Intermodal shipments typically fall into one of two categories: international intermodal or domestic intermodal. International intermodal shipments travel in 20- or 40-foot containers. As international intermodal shipments travel between ocean carriers, trucks and trains, the product stays in the same container for the entirety of the trip. Domestic intermodal shipments travel in 53-foot containers.

Although these shipments are referred to as “domestic intermodal,” products may still arrive from overseas. The key difference is that after products arrive at a port in 20- or 40-foot international containers, they are transferred to 53-foot domestic containers, whether at a cross dock facility, transload facility or distribution center. From there, they travel to inland (i.e., “domestic”) destinations.