Rail intermodal — the transportation of shipping containers and truck trailers by rail — allows railroads to provide their customers cost-effective, environmentally friendly service for almost anything that can be loaded into a truck or a container.

Customers receive the flexible service that trucks provide, but at a competitive rate only rail intermodal can offer. The general public benefits, too, from the reduction in highway congestion and harmful emissions — and from the reduced cost of moving goods to market.

Starting with the advent of the modern shipping container in the 1950s, freight railroads have invested heavily to build the world-class intermodal rail network that ensures U.S. global competitiveness:

  • New and expanded intermodal terminals at ports and inland use advanced technologies to transfer containers to and from trucks in minutes.
  • Additional track capacity and advanced signaling systems allow for faster, more frequent intermodal trains.
  • Bridge and tunnel improvements accommodate the additional height that doublestack trains require.
  • New locomotives and intermodal flat cars handle traffic growth.

Most importantly, intermodal rail has benefitted rail customers with competitive rates and unmatched efficiency of scale. Thanks in part to intermodal freight rail, average rail rates have fallen 45% since 1981 — allowing most rail shippers to move nearly twice as much freight for the same price paid more than 30 years ago. Freight rail remains committed to maintaining and growing the most cost-effective and efficient intermodal rail network in the world.


Current Stats: In 2017, U.S. Class I railroads originated a record 13.7 million containers and trailers with intermodal accounting for 24% of revenue for major U.S. railroads.

Download Backgrounder