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Barge Transload: Large Loads, Profound Savings

Barge transload moving along a river
Barge Transload: Large Loads, Profound Savings
When shipping large loads across the domestic United States, barge transload is the most efficient and best way to ship your goods.
By Transload Services USA
 | September 13, 2022
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Last Modified: December 12, 2023

Barge transload offers a unique option for extending the viability of transloading cargo. This form of transloading bypasses terrain difficulties, maximizes single shipment load capacity, and its cost-effectiveness in relation to tons-per-mile efficiency knows no equal. Barge transload differs from traditional barge transport because it targets a specific part of the process; it is part of the equation and not the whole equation.

Barge transloading has an advantage over other methods due to the ability to transport around 1,500 tons per barge in a single shipment. Transloading to and from a barge is done through various means like cranes and conveyor systems, which make for a speedy transition to and from rail cars and truckload fleets.

The following information explains in detail what barges are and how they are an intricate part of the transload concept.

What Is a Transport Barge?

barge transload

A transport barge is a heavy haul platform used to ferret freight across various lakes and waterways. Notably, in the United States, barges are used to transport cargo up and down rivers and across lakes.

In 2500 BC, the first known barge was used to travel across the Egyptian Nile. This barge was constructed for and used by the second Pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty, King Khufu. He was the Pharaoh most notable for producing the Great Pyramid at Giza.

Over the years, the use case and design of barges would evolve. These ships would grow more prominent, become engineered to handle heavier loads, and become more flexible with the types of commodities they could carry.

In the US, barges fall under the direct jurisdiction of the US Department of Transportation (USDOT). More specifically, the US Maritime Administration, which oversees all maritime rules, regulations and mandates for barges that travel in the US.

The transportation of goods through waterways is one of humankind’s first methods of transporting goods in various parts of the world. It is essential to remember that inland waterways were the original highways of the world.

Barges are either self-propelled or towed through inland waterways across America and other parts of the world, as they move goods across the following:

  • Canals 
  • Rivers 
  • Lakes
  • Ports

Barges can transport goods in bulk with a considerably lower transport cost than most options. Similar to rail transload, barges have an incredible fuel efficiency compared to domestic truckload tons of miles per gallon.

Have a barge coming in off the eastern coast of the U.S. Read our article to stay informed on Gulf Coast transload.

Looking to ship and store items seamlessly?
Let Transload Services USA be your partner.
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Are There Different Types of Barges?

When transporting goods across the many waterways throughout the United States, you must know your options when barges are involved. Several different barge types can accommodate your particular needs.

Four types of barges are available to ship goods:

  • Dry Bulk Cargo Barge: This type of barge is used to haul all manner of dry goods. The typical goods transported include minerals, grain, timber, recycled goods, garbage, and gravel. 
  • Freight Container Barge: This type of barge is similar to a dry bulk cargo barge. The only difference is this barge is used exclusively to transport stacked freight containers. 
  • Split Hopper Barge: This type of barge is used to haul dredged bulk materials like sand and soil.  It can load and unload any dredged material it carries with specialized equipment for handling loose material. 
  • Liquid Cargo Barge: This type of barge is used to haul all varieties of industrial chemicals, including HAZMAT. Typical liquid products include oil, fertilizers, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.

Barges do not simply transport containers or dry bulk goods; they are also used to ferry various commodities. Barges are equipped to handle a wide array of cargo from liquids, grains, sand, and agricultural goods.

Need to transport coal across great bodies of water? Check out our article on coal transloading.

Barge Sizes and Maximum Capacity

The overall size of barges vary in footage and maximum carrying capacity. It is important to note that each type of barge is designed for use in specific waterways, from calm rivers to ones with a high flow rate. Depending on the river, towed, tugged, or self-propelled barges may be used. 

Once a barge has been established on a specific waterway, it is unlikely for that barge to move to a setting with different characteristics. 

Some standard barge sizes and capacities include:

  1. 180ft Barge: This barge size can carry a load not exceeding 2,000 metric tons of cargo.
  1. 230ft Barge: This barge size can carry a load not exceeding 4,000 metric tons of cargo.
  1. 270ft Barge: This barge size can carry a load not exceeding 6,000 metric tons of cargo.
  1. 300ft Barge: This barge size can carry a load not exceeding 8,000 metric tons of cargo. 

The size of the barge may also be limited by the dimensions of the waterway. If you know your products need to be delivered down a narrow or twisting path – it may be best to transload to a smaller and more maneuverable barge. 

In calm waters, you will frequently see self-propelled barges. High-flow situations normally require a barge to be towed by another vessel, usually a tugboat. 

Either way you look at it, transporting cargo using the river and lake waterways is among the oldest forms of mass cargo transport in the history of humankind. However, it is no longer as popular as other shipping forms. 

In contrast, the concept of transloading using barges is something entirely different. Barge transload takes advantage of the enormous carrying capacity of a single load and pairs it with the flexibility of both rail and truckload, giving the shipper several benefits, which we will discuss later in this article.

Brages are great for shipping bulk goods. Check out our article on bulk transload to find out more about this type of transload service.

What Type of Equipment Does Barge Transload Use?

barges passing along a waterway

Many pieces of equipment are used to load and unload cargo onto barges for transload. A crane is the most used piece of equipment for transloading cargo onto a barge. These cranes are hydraulically operated to load anything from all manner of goods to shipping containers.

Another piece of equipment used to load loose bulk materials such as grain, sand, and gravel is a “truck unloader.” A truck unloader is a conveyor system where truckloads can dump their transported loose material into this conveyor platform that sends the material onto the barge.

Another form of conveyor is what’s known as a “transloader conveyor.” These conveyors come in the form of a “telescopic radial stacker.” These behemoths of loading are used in transporting with an insane short ton per hour (STPH) / metric tons per hour (MTPH) load capacity.

These telescopic stackers can exercise unprecedented load times. The Telestacker Conveyor, for example, can hit load capacities of up to 5,000 STPH and 4,500 MTPH. This transfer time is an insane rate of loading materials per hour. Loaders like this one can be used in configurations for loading and unloading from rail to truck/truck to rail, truck to a barge, rail to a barge, and so on.

How Do Barges Fit Into Transloading?

barge being unloaded and loaded

Barges have a unique fit for transloading facilities and moving goods across the many waterways in the country. As outlined above, barge transport used alone is not very efficient and has declined rapidly over the years as far as practical application use is concerned.

However, by utilizing this method of transportation in a transload setting, the advantages become incredible. For example, when barges are used together with rail and truckload, the speed and efficiency of moving mass quantities of cargo can quickly become a reality.

For example, when transporting goods across a rail line, each rail car can roughly carry roughly 125 tons of cargo, and if the train is hauling 100 rail cars or more, that means the total capacity exceeds that of 12,000 tons of loaded cargo. This scenario is ideal for getting the biggest bang for your buck when transloading to a barge and then back to a rail line or fleet of truckload vehicles.

As you can see, barge transport has distinct usefulness in transloading operations and serves as another form of large-capacity transport option. With this transport option, transloaded goods are no longer limited to terrain constraints due to insufficient rail access and a large fleet of road trucking expenses.

Looking to ship and store items seamlessly?
Let Transload Services USA be your partner.
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What Are The Advantages of Barge Transload?

Barge being pushed

There are numerous advantages to using barge transload services. The whole point of barge transloading operations is to utilize multiple transportation methods to maximize cargo capacity while moving goods quickly. The cost savings are an additional benefit.

The advantages of barge transload are inherent in their ecological footprint and ability to reach varied destinations across the country. However, a barge isn’t as fast as a railcar or truckload, its ability to effectively bypass rough terrain and move massive quantities of cargo more than makes up for competitive travel speed.

Some examples of why barge transload is the intelligent play:

  1. Fuel Efficiency: In terms of miles per gallon, barges are the most fuel-efficient method of transport and can travel more miles per ton than trains and trucks.
  2. Waterway Network: Barges can transload goods along various rivers and ports across the United States, making transloading onto trains and truckloads easier.
  3. Port Flexibility: Depending on the barge type, these barges can transport goods directly from the ports up and down waterways to another port for transloading onto another transport platform.
  4. Transload Equipment: With cranes and conveyor systems, transferring cargo quickly from one platform to another is a snap. The amount of time it takes to move large quantities of cargo from one vehicle to another is critical in transloading.

The table below illustrates the differences between barges, railcars, and truckloads in terms of transload equipment:

Comparing Transload Transport Equipment

Weight Capacity1,500 tons100 tons25 tons
Dry Capacity52,500 Bushels3,500 Bushels875 Bushels
Liquid Capacity453,600 Gallons30,240 Gallons7,560 Gallons
Cost Per Ton 1-Mile514 miles202 miles59 miles

Barge transload is a clear option when you look at the key advantages and comparisons to other modes of transload. Between the ability to reach significant destinations across America’s heartland and direct ocean port access, barge transload has great flexibility. 

Once a barge has traveled from its origin point, it can then offload onto rail cars and truckloads at its destination point quickly. This fast load/unload that barge transload offers is such a significant advantage for moving large quantities of goods effectively and efficiently.

Freight Consolidation

At its core, transload is all about consolidating your freight. Instead of using multiple forms of less-than-truckload (LTL), you can utilize larger equipment to meet the load capacity for a single shipment. Using a single load option saves fuel efficiency, time to allocate equipment, loading/unloading times, and much more.

As mentioned in this article, maximum capacity and fuel efficacy are significant players related to hard benefits. However, from a logistical standpoint, it is also easier to manage and direct a single shipment instead of multiple modes of transport.

The logistical challenges of managing multiple modes of transportation are challenging. It is far easier to load/unload from a single transport than numerous modes of transportation. This example shows that transloading from a single shipment can keep the supply chain moving at blistering speeds while moving considerably more freight.

Cost Savings

The cost savings that occur from using barge transload is clear; less fuel is required per ton, which is a significant benefit. The fuel cost is rising due to oil supply disruptions plaguing most of the world, including the United States.

Cost Savings Per Ton Mile By Transport

Transport TypePer Ton Mile
Truckload59 mpg
Railcar202 mpg
Barge514 mpg

Barge transload benefits from its ability to transport greater capacities “per ton-mile” than other modes of transportation. It would take 15 rail cars to equal one barge regarding load capacity parity and fuel efficiency. This statistic clearly shows the cost of fuel is out of balance by comparison. 

This example does not even factor in a substantially higher truckload cost. The reasoning stemming from a higher cost estimate related to truckload is apparent, not to mention the requisition of many trucks to meet that capacity requirement.

Time Savings

Saving time on transporting cargo loads is critical for any shipper. Getting goods from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time while consolidating freight and keeping cost-effectiveness a priority is mission-critical for any shipper.

Instead of loading goods onto multiple truckload shipments and sending them to their destination directly, transload shipping alternatives mix things up in ways that benefit the customer every time. 

Barge transloading allows a large capacity load to reach multiple destinations in a single shipment with fast load/unload times. This time savings is incredible when you consider alternatives such as a truckload directly traveling from pickup point to destination.

Looking to ship and store items seamlessly?
Let Transload Services USA be your partner.
Get a quote

Transload Services USA Can Help You With Barge Transload Today

If one thing has been made clear, barge transload is the single most effective way to ship large capacity loads. Transload Services USA can help facilitate your shipping needs by finding you the best transload solution with barges in mind.

Looking to move a large capacity shipment has never been made easier. Transload Services USA uses truckload, rail, air, barge, and vessel options to move your freight as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, all while maintaining complete transparency with our customers.

Our full suite of services includes:

Transload Services USA offers unmatched quality and customer service level with our bar-setting white-glove service, which continues to be a benchmark in the transload industry. Call now to speak with one of our industry experts at (352) 282-4588, or click here to get started transloading your cargo today.

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