Table of Contents

Intermodal Shipping: Getting Your Cargo Delivered to Remote Locations


Intermodal Shipping: Getting Your Cargo Delivered to Remote Locations

If you’re looking to transport your cargo to remote locations within Australia, an intermodal shipping option may be an appropriate strategy. An intermodal shipment can get your cargo into a range of places that are tricky to get to, especially if they’re far away from major cities, airports, container ports or even main highways.

The market for intermodal freight transport is a rapidly growing market. According to the World Economic Forum, it’s expected to increase by $2.2 trillion by the year 2027. This is because the growth of intermodal freight alone is expected to boost from $1.6 trillion in 2020 to as much as $3.8 trillion in 2027.

So if you’re looking to learn about how intermodal freight shipping works to deliver your goods to remote locations, you’re in the right place. Below, we’ll provide a definition of intermodal shipping, outline its benefits and also let you know the considerations you’ll need to take into account when deciding between rail and coastal shipping (two different intermodal options).

What is intermodal shipping?

Intermodal shipping is a way of transporting your cargo using two or more modes of transportation. This may include a truck and train, or vessel and aircraft. The goods will be shipped from the shipper to the consignee, and the containers carrying your cargo do not need to change at any stage throughout the process.

In Australia, rail services are an important part of intermodal shipping. This is because many remote sites are located in places that trains are best equipped to access. Geographically, Australia covers a huge landmass and often it is not economical to travel large distances via truck.

We also have a lot of mine sites that require deliveries of containerised cargo.  Rail shipping is often the best solution in those situations.

Therefore, intermodal shipping will typically occur when your goods arrive into Australia in a full container on a vessel, which is then transported to a rail yard by a truck. The goods are then taken to their final destination on a train.

What are the benefits of intermodal shipping?

There are many advantages to using intermodal shipping in your supply chain. We’ve outlined some of these benefits below.

It’s flexible

The primary advantage of using intermodal shipping is that it can allow you to use as many kinds of shipping options as necessary. There are so many options to transport your container, and one particular method (such as using a truck) may not suit all geographical routes.

You save costs

Intermodal freight transportation is great when shipping over long distances because you save money by spending on the transport you actually need. You can also make sure you’re using the most cost-effective transport method that is suitable for your shipment.

It improves safety

Your cargo doesn’t have to be transferred from one container to another container. This protects your goods from the elements, exposure to harmful substances and also reduces handling risk. Shipping by vehicles like trains is also considered safer than some other transport options. It, therefore, minimises the chances of your cargo being damaged.

It’s more environmentally friendly

By using intermodal shipping, you can lower your company’s carbon footprint by selecting only the most environmentally friendly kinds of transport. Rail is a good option, especially compared to trucks, as it can reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide that are created during transit.

Coastal shipping vs rail

While rail is often the best solution when deciding to use intermodal shipping, it is not the only option.

There is also coastal shipping, which refers to transporting cargo between different states in Australia using container vessels rather than your conventional road and rail options.

When deciding between coast and rail shipping, there is a number of factors you should consider. This includes as follows.

Intermodal Shipping: Getting Your Cargo Delivered to Remote Locations


Rail freight generally costs more than coastal shipping. This is because ocean freight is charged by container (and there’s a high tonnage capacity of around 22 tonnes). Rail, however, is charged on a base rate of 5 or 8 tonnes. The heavier your cargo, the more you will pay.

Transit times

Rail freight, however, offers a shorter transit time between most states. In other words, it takes longer for container vessels to reach their destination compared to train. For more urgent shipments, rail transport is the preferred option.

Delivery location

Rail transport is best if you require shipping goods to regional destinations. When transporting via a coastal shipping method, you may need to use rail anyway if you’re shipping to a remote site.

The main rail services cover most capital cities and also other coastal cities. Some of these include Newcastle, Townsville, Cairns and Bowen. Cities interstate include places like Mt Isa, Kalgoorlie and others.

One of Australia’s largest private rail freight operators, Pacific National provides a myriad of rail transport routes. Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year, Pacific National handles millions of tonnes of general freight cargo, import and export goods, and bulk commodities, which are reflective of the broader Australian economy.

Pacific National’s rail freight also has advantages over other modes of transport, including; it’s safer, greener, cost-effective and can reduce passenger congestion on Australian roads. Lastly, their extensive rail operational experience and various fleet capacities mean that a wide range of customer needs can be satisfied.

Container usage

If you need to a hire container on a rail service to transport your cargo between states, this can be more expensive than coastal shipping as it adds additional costs to your shipment.

For intermodal rail deliveries, it is typically assumed you will be using a container already provided to you for a sea freight consignment. This is because you will usually bring in your cargo from overseas using a container vessel. But if this is not the case, you will need to hire a container for transportation.

Other considerations when using intermodal shipping

There are other important considerations to remember when employing intermodal shipping methods across the supply chain. We’ll outline some of this below.

Free time and detention

When using a shipping container to transport your goods, you can’t keep that container forever. You will always need to know how much free time you have with your sea freight container and talk to your forwarder about avoiding so-called ‘detention’ (fees charged by a shipping company when you keep their container for longer than a certain period of time).

Most containers come with 7 days of free time from the date of discharge. However, this may not be sufficient time to deliver via rail, unpack and return the container. On these occasions, a free time extension should be requested.

Intermodal Shipping: Getting Your Cargo Delivered to Remote Locations

Deliveries to rural locations

Containers going to rural locations need what’s called a “rural tailgate” treatment before they can be delivered. This can add additional costs to the operation.

A rural tailgate inspection is managed by Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. Your containers will be directed into what’s called an approved arrangement (AA) site. Officers will inspect all the surfaces of your container, and keep a sharp eye out for any pests, plant material or packaging that does not comply with the applicable regulations.

Khapra beetle measures

Australia has adopted stringent biosecurity measures to prevent the introduction of the Khapra beetle into Australia. This is a pest that poses a significant biosecurity risk to Australian grains.

If you are importing target risk containers from a risk country and unpacking them in a rural grain-growing area of Australia, your cargo may be subject to these measures. Read more about Khapra beetle measures here.


Use a freight forwarder (and get creative)

Intermodal shipping can be complicated, with many complex issues and working parts involved. Many things can go wrong, so it’s important to use an expert freight forwarder to ensure nothing falls through the cracks or crevasses.

By understanding the rail, sea and air networks, our professional team here at International Cargo Express are able to plan alternative delivery services. We have contacts across the globe and will work closely with you to ensure your shipment is as seamless and as cost-effective for you as possible.

We can also bring cargo into uncommon ports such as Townsville and Darwin for onward transportation through the rail network.

Get in touch with our friendly team at one of our four offices across Australia, and let’s talk about your next shipment.

Request A Quote

or call us on 1300 227 461

Recommended For You

we consult. we plan. we deliver. footer image

We Consult. We Plan. We Deliver.

  • CONSULT – We discuss your specific needs.
  • PLAN – We develop a bespoke tailored plan that is cost-effective & efficient.
  • DELIVER – We manage your shipment and keep you updated from beginning to end.