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Intermodal Terminology You Should Know!

Whether you’re just getting started in freight logistics or have been in the industry for years, Northstar Transport Services is here to help with all things intermodal transportation. When dealing with intermodal transportation, it is important to understand common definitions, terminology, and acronyms. Keep reading to learn more about the importance of intermodal terminology!


Essential Definitions

Intermodal: The word intermodal refers to a transportation method that involves more than one form of transport during a single trip.


Freight forwarder: A freight forwarder is a company that books shipments and manages intermodal transport. They manage intermodal shipping logistics by providing access to rail lines, trucks, cargo vessels, and warehouses. A good intermodal partner will also provide regular updates on your shipment and additional services such as insurance for your cargo.


Intermodal container: Intermodal containers are intermodal freight transport units that can be used across different modes. They are reusable and interchangeable and come in a range of standard sizes. The most common intermodal container is the 20 ft unit.



Intermodal Container


Breakbulk: Breakbulk cargo refers to goods that are not shipped in containers. This cargo is usually handled and transported individually instead of consolidated into a container.


Door-to-Door Intermodal Transportation: This transportation leverages rail efficiency and truckload flexibility to bring together the best price and service into one freight mode.


Association of American Railroads: Founded in 1934, the AAR is the world's leading railroad policy, research, standard setting, and technology organization that focuses on the safety and productivity of the U.S. freight rail industry. This system outlines the intermodal journey starting at the manufacturing facility. An intermodal container is loaded with a shipper’s freight and then driven to the railroad ramp by a dray motor carrier. When the container arrives at the intermodal ramp, it is lifted off the chassis and placed onto a wellcar. The train cars then move the intermodal container across the railroad network for the shipment’s most significant portion. Finally, the container is transferred to a truck when arriving at the intermodal ramp. Then, the truck is on its way to deliver the freight to its final destination.



Association of American Railroads


Important Acronyms

IMDL: Intermodal. Intermodal freight transport involves the transportation of freight in an intermodal container or vehicle, using multiple modes of transportation, such as rail, ship, and truck. The rail segment of the cargo is used for long distances, and the shorter segments from each freight route use trucks to finish off the drive.


LTL: Less-than-Truckload. LTL is used when a shipper has more than a parcel shipment but less than a full truckload. Anything over 150 pounds is considered an LTL. Rail and truck freight carriers consolidate many LTL shipments from various shippers into one load and move it through their hub-and-spoke network to pick up the freight at origin and deliver it to its final destination.


FTL: Full Truckload. Full truckload is used when shippers require the entire trailer space for a shipment. The max weight of a whole truckload is around 45,000 pounds. FTL typically takes a direct route from origin to destination, making it a more efficient drive. In addition, total truckload shipments are less prone to damage and theft since the load is under one driver.


MTO: Multimodal Transport Operator. A multimodal transport operator is a person or an organization that supports the transportation of goods using multiple modes of transportation under the multimodal transport contract. They are also responsible for the shipment of cargo from origin to destination. In addition, multimodal transport operators communicate and coordinate the process of intermodal transportation.



Multimodal Transport Operator


Northstar Can Help!

Since 2014, Northstar Transport Services has grown and expanded our footprint to 7 locations serving the ports of New York / New Jersey, Philadelphia, Norfolk, Charleston, Jacksonville, Atlanta, and Miami. 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. Our services are an integral part of your product’s supply chain. By implementing strategic goals, we can meet our customers’ requirements efficiently and cost-effectively. For more information on our services, visit our website!



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