Finding the Best Intermodal Container For Your Shipment

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Intermodal shipping provides speed and value for businesses looking to transport freight over medium to long distances. 

The significant environmental benefits associated with intermodal transport incorporating rail provide further motivation for businesses to use intermodal shipping. 

However, when packing your intermodal shipment, it’s essential to ensure it’s packaged into the best container for the journey. This will help your shipments safely and securely transfer between transport modalities and arrive at your destination on time. 

But…which container is best for your shipment? And what are the risks of getting it wrong? 

In this article, we’ll explore the top 7 most popular intermodal containers, explain which is best for what type of shipment, and provide some tips on choosing the best container. 

The top 7 types of intermodal container 

Dry freight container

Intermodal Container

The most common type of intermodal container – which might jump to mind when picturing a shipping container – is a dry freight or “general” container. 

Dry freight containers are typically used for the transportation of dry goods since they’re airtight and don’t feature a ventilation system. 

Dry freight containers are between 20 and 40 feet and account for 90% of the world’s intermodal containers. Many of the other types of intermodal shipping containers in this article are variations of the standard dry goods container with additional features to provide benefits for specific shipment types. 

Open top container

Open top containers, as the name suggests, are containers that don’t provide a roof. These are often used to transport bulky cargo such as machinery that won’t be affected by exposure to the elements. A tarpaulin can cover open-top containers to keep exposure to a minimum. 

Open-top containers also measure between 20 and 40 feet and can carry up to 28-30 metric tons. 

Reefer container

Reefer containers require a connection to a power source to maintain an internal temperature suitable for transporting goods that require temperature control. 

Reefer containers transport common perishable food items such as meat and dairy, pharmaceutical items, and medicines. For this reason, they’re also commonly referred to as refrigerated containers. 

Depending on the size of the unit, these containers can be kept at temperatures as low as -60C and up to +30C.

Open side container

Intermodal Container

Open-sided containers are dry goods containers with an additional feature – bi-folding doors on one or both sides of the container. 

These doors provide easy access for loading and unloading, especially in the case of oversized goods. 

Flat rack container

Flat rack containers feature collapsible sides and no roof. This unusual design allows the sides to be folded to create a “flat rack” onto which pipes or machinery can be loaded. 

Flat racks provide easy access via either the sides or top opening of the container and are particularly well-suited to heavy cargo such as construction materials or equipment

These containers typically measure either 20 or 40 feet in length.  

Tunnel container

Tunnel containers, also called double enders or double door containers, open on both ends – creating the tunnel-like appearance that gives them their name. 

Like open-side containers, tunnel containers provide easier loading and unloading by providing access at both ends of the container. 

Tank container

Intermodal Container

Tank containers or tankers are slightly different from the other intermodal containers on this list.

Designed to carry liquids, gases, or powders, these containers feature a steel frame with a cylindrical container – made of an anti-corrosive metal – secured inside. 

For safe transport, tank containers must be at least 80% full during transport to avoid surging but not exceeding 95% capacity to allow for any thermal expansion of the contents that might occur in transit. 

How to choose the right intermodal container for your shipment

One of the benefits of opting for an intermodal container is that it avoids your shipment needing to be unpacked and repacked as it changes transportation mode – i.e., from truck to rail. 

However, failing to select the right container type for your shipment can quickly lose you this benefit! 

To ensure you choose the right container option for you, consider the following factors as they relate to your shipment:

  • Size: How much total space does your shipment need? Consider the height of your goods and the width and length of oversized items. 
  • Weight: What is the total weight – including any packaging – of your shipment?
  • Temperature: Does your shipment require temperature control in transit?
  • Maneuverability: Is your shipment easy to load and unload, or would it benefit from a container offering side or roof access?
  • Durability: Does your shipment contain fragile goods? Can it withstand exposure to the elements?

Assessing these factors will produce a shipment profile that you can use to cross-reference against container types quickly. If you’re planning on using an intermodal logistics provider, you can also share this profile to receive recommendations on the best container options. 

Intermodal shipping with Jansson

No matter the type of intermodal container you’re looking for, Jansson’s premier network of third-party carriers can ensure your shipment is transported with care.   

At Jansson, we go above and beyond to ensure your intermodal shipment is safe and secure at every stage of its journey. 

To find out more about our logistics and transportation solutions, or to request a quote for intermodal shipping, reach out to Jansson today!

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