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Different Types of Intermodal Cargo

What is Intermodal Freight Transportation?


Intermodal freight transportation involves the movement of intermodal containers using multiple methods of transport. By packing cargo into intermodal containers, carriers do not have to handle any goods directly. By combining methods such as trains, ships, and trucks, companies can save a lot of time and money on transportation.


Intermodal Containers

Intermodal containers vary in shape and size and are often equipped with functions that allow cargo to be transported properly. For example, some units may include refrigeration, heating, or ventilation. Over the last few decades, intermodal containers have become the most efficient way to transport goods.

large colorful stack of shipping containers northstar transport

The following are examples of different types of intermodal containers:

  • Dry storage containers - transport dry materials

  • Refrigerated shipping containers - transport temperature and time-sensitive cargo

  • Tank containers - transport liquids, powders, or gasses

  • Insulated containers - transport goods that require temperature control

Types of Intermodal Cargo


Consumer Goods

Consumer goods are goods that are bought and used by consumers. These goods typically have elongated expiration dates and do not require special shipping containers. These qualities make consumer goods one of the most common types of intermodal cargo.


Frozen Products

Companies that ship frozen products commonly utilize temperature-controlled containers; these containers are called reefers or refrigerated containers. Most reefers can maintain a temperature anywhere from -15 degrees Fahrenheit to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately).

Depending on the climate and route of transportation, some companies may not need to use refrigerated containers because, when traveling through cold conditions, shipping containers can drop to temperatures as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit.


Fresh Produce

Fresh produce may be delivered straight to the store to be sold or to another company to produce a new product. Either way, most companies that order fresh produce receive this product through intermodal shipping. Similar to frozen shipments, some companies will utilize temperature-controlled containers to keep their produce fresh.


Liquid Bulk

Another type of intermodal cargo is liquid bulk. Liquid bulk is often classified as edible or non-edible and hazardous or non-hazardous. With that said, these liquids can be anything from apple juice to flammable gas.

Companies shipping or receiving liquid bulk often use tank containers. Tank containers can typically hold around 23,000 liters of liquid cargo and can be easily transferred from one form of transportation to another (e.g., train to truck).


Dry Bulk

Dry bulk consists of raw materials that are often used in the manufacturing and production process. These materials can be coal, grain, wood, sugar, etc. Dry bulk is typically shipped in large, dry storage containers and is later used to manufacture another product. Companies use intermodal cargo to ship and receive dry bulk because it is time and cost-effective.


Large Equipment and Vehicles

transport cargo ship with shipping containers out at sea northstar

Along with large quantities of small products, intermodal cargo can include small quantities of large products.

Some of this equipment may be roll-on roll-off cargo, sometimes called ro-ro cargo, which can be wheeled on and off shipping vessels. This type of cargo may include automobiles, industrial and construction materials, agricultural machinery, etc. These heavy objects are usually transported on a ro-ro ship because they are too heavy to haul in the air.


In addition to ro-ro ships, containers of heavy equipment, large objects, vehicles, or vehicle parts can be transported by train or truck. This process allows companies to receive their large cargo with less hassle.


Hazardous Materials

The final type of intermodal cargo is hazardous materials. Shipping hazardous materials is one of the most complex processes regarding intermodal shipping. This is because hazardous materials must be packaged in specialized containers and handled only by trained professionals.


Shipping hazardous materials can be more expensive than shipping other materials because it requires special permits from government agencies. Nevertheless, intermodal shipping is the best method for shipping hazardous materials because there is less time spent loading and unloading material, decreasing the risks of touching the hazardous substance.


Intermodal shipping is a cost-effective and timely way to transport cargo. Whether you are moving large equipment, raw goods, hazardous materials, or consumer products, intermodal shipping is an efficient option. Here at Northstar Transport Services, we specialize in transportation solutions that enable you to stay focused on your supply chain. We specialize in handling both 53’ domestic containers and international containers to steamship companies, beneficial cargo owners, international freight forwarders, customs brokers, and third-party logistics companies. Visit our website or contact us for more information on our locations and services.


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