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Transload Services: What are They and Why Do You Need Them?

A container ship prepares to dock at port
Transload Services: What are They and Why Do You Need Them?
Keep your supply chain moving, while saving both time and money, with transload services from a strong logistics partner. Let us help NOW.
By Transload Services USA
 | August 5, 2021
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Last Modified: December 12, 2023

Whether you’re shipping your freight domestically or internationally, it’s becoming increasingly rarer that a single method of transportation can be used. Some facilities just can’t accept direct ship or rail delivery, for instance. That’s where transloading services come into focus and the kind of offering that can really help you put the finishing touches on getting your products into the strategic locations required in the modern world. But you may be wondering exactly what transloading services are and why you truly need them.

Transloading services refer to transferring merchandise from one method of transport to another along a designated route. These services are typically more flexible and reduce costs and change depending on the transportation method used and the commodity that’s shipped. Some of these services include:

  • Rail Transload
  • Barge Transload
  • Bulk and Dry Bulk Transload
Two dock workers look at shipping containers

What Are Transload Services?

With the vast distances products travel around the world and the many different modes of transportation available, transloading services are here to stay. But if transloading is becoming a vital part of shipping — especially internationally — it’s important to know exactly what it is.

Transloading services have to do with cargo containers full of commodities being initially loaded onto one mode of transport via ship as ocean freight which it then makes it to a port of entry. Once there, the container is processed in a facility by being transferred into the back of a truck or a container more suited for domestic shipment.

While that might be the main way container transloading occurs, it can happen with domestic shipments as well where freight might begin on a train or truck and then finish on the opposite form of transport. The entire goal is to utilize the resources available in regard to reducing transit time and also make sure the freight has a direct path to its destination.

Transloading services can also refer to a train-to-train exchange, or a truck-to-truck exchange. So as you can see, there’s not one specific way to complete a transload. Even in situations where a giant cargo ship might be too large to enter a preferred port, transloading can occur by offloading freight from the larger ship onto a smaller watercraft that can then access the port. 

In the world of transportation logistics, this has become a vital way to keep freight moving in an efficient and desirable manner. It also can have real-world cost savings for both the third-party logistics companies providing the service and the businesses utilizing it. 

What Is a Transload Rate?

The transloading rate is pretty self-explanatory — it’s the quoted price you’ll pay to have your freight handled. However, while you might be having the freight moved around from container to container or with different modes of freight hauling, you will be dealing with a single third-party logistics (3PL) provider to accommodate all of your needs surrounding the transloading services.

As the customer, you should be able to lay out exactly what you require and get a quick, accurate cost quoted. Also as the customer, it’s understandable if you’re looking for the most cost-effective way to complete moving your goods through the supply chain and the third-party logistics company should also have that in mind on your behalf.

But for the best value in a transload rate, make sure you’re getting everything you will require so you’re not hit with surprise fees or realize all too late that an add-on service midway through transloading could increase the cost. In order to protect yourself, make sure to have these pieces of information available when shopping for rate quotes:

  • Type of commodity
  • Quantity of commodity
  • Perishability of commodity
  • Distance of total trip
  • Ease of servicing the route
  • Additional freight insurance
  • How quickly you need the items shipped
  • If you require warehouse storage and an estimate of how long
  • If you need specialized transport (i.e. climate-controlled hauling)

Even after giving all of this information to the 3PL provider, you should be aware of factors outside of your control that will impact the rate you receive:

  • The cost of fuel
  • Supply and demand
  • Any taxes or duties associated with import (if applicable)

So to do your part in making sure you get the most accurate rate that includes everything you need, be as comprehensive as possible in communicating with the 3PL company to ensure you have everything required to get your transloading at a reasonable price.   

Rows of containers and rail cars at a transload facility

What Is a Transloading Facility?

A transloading facility is a place that allows for the actual transloading to occur. In the most common cases, these are strategically placed along or at the end of railroad tracks to allow offloading of your freight from the railcar onto a truck to finish the rest of your load’s journey.

There are many places in the U.S. where railroad tracks can’t go. An example would be if you’re shipping food — there are virtually no grocery stores with railroad access, so climate-controlled rail cars can take perishable food as far as it can before it’s then transloaded onto a truck for the last leg of transport. A well-thought-out transloading facility is set up with two things in mind:

  1. To quickly and efficiently complete the transloading process.
  2. Usually positioned at a place like an interstate highway or railroad junction so once the load is transferred, the truck can easily get on the road.

Another big advantage a dedicated transloading facility will offer is heavy machinery needed to transfer cargo containers or unload/load from one method of transportation to another. This can be things like heavy-duty forklifts, conveyor belts, cranes and the skilled labor needed to operate this equipment and expertly transfer your cargo to reduce the risk of it being damaged. The specialized equipment found here also helps with speeding up the shifting process, providing another benefit.

In the same vein, a transloading facility leaves space for manual offloading and loading to take place as well. This makes such a setup a true one-stop shop for all of your transloading service needs in one place.    

What is Bulk Transloading?

Transloading takes on multiple forms and one of those is called bulk transloading. This refers more to those commodities that are dry — but can also be in liquid form — and possibly loose or not contained in the same way as a standard cargo.

Examples of things that would be bulk transloaded are:

  • Minerals
  • Fuel
  • Lumber products
  • Plastics
  • Rocks (like coal)
  • Coal
  • Farm feed or other food-grade products

These are the kind of items that can’t be as easily transloaded as boxed or palletized items, so they arguably need a transloading facility more than more standardized freight.

A forklift drives into the back of a semi truck for loading

What Is The Difference Between Transloading and Transshipment?

In understanding why transloading services are needed, it’s good to make the distinction between that and transshipment since it’s possible for the two to be confused. To reiterate, transloading is when a container cargo arrives.

Transshipment can happen in concert with or completely independent from transloading. Transshipment is more about shipping containers to one location with the intention of eventually shipping them to their primary destination. It’s more of an intermediary way to go about the shipping process but in certain instances (like offloading the freight from a truck to sit in a terminal, which will end up on a train down the road), transshipment and transloading can overlap.

However, some instances of transshipment occur in line with transloading. There is something known as break of gauge that transhippers try to avoid since it can incur delays, additional costs, and is just overall inconvenient. This happens when the track that a train is on can’t continue because the gauge — basically the spacing between the tracks — changes. So freight must be offloaded from one train to another, necessitating the need for transloading during a transshipment.

Transloading vs. Intermodal

This section will be small and direct because there are actually many shared similarities between transloading and intermodal services.

The one defining difference is that transloading involves cargo being unloaded from its original container into either another container, warehouse, or directly onto a truck or train. Meanwhile, intermodal transport stays in the same shipping container during the length of the entire journey.

Intermodal transportation just means that two or more methods of transport are used to deliver cargo. So while all transloading can be considered intermodal transportation by its most general definition, not all intermodal transportation is indicative of it also being transloaded.     

How Can Transloading Help You?

If your freight is moving over long distances at normal intervals, you should see a benefit from

1. Saving Time

Depending on the commodity being shipped, time can truly be of the essence. In fact, with trucking and railroad, the more time or distance the vehicle has to travel, the more expensive it will be.

Overall, rail is cheaper and less energy-intensive over longer distances. But it has two major weaknesses that prevent it from being the sole source of transportation for cargo domestically. The big one is time: even in cases where using trucking could be more expensive, it’s generally going to be faster, especially if you have a full truckload to yourself. So even if you’re not purchasing expedited freight shipping, it’s still quicker than using rail.

The other area, which has already been described, is that nearly any business, retailer or distribution center can welcome an 18-wheeler and effortlessly unload or load it with speed. Train tracks have limitations as they don’t go everywhere.

So transloading saves you time on both of these accounts because it combines multiple shipping methods to most directly access each of the shipping methods’ strengths and minimizes the downsides of each.

2. Reduce Lead Times

Right now, there are shipping container shortages, freight and trucking capacity shortages, if you need to move freight, there’s a very real chance you will currently be facing heavy competition for currently limited capacity spots.

So one way to somewhat, if not wholly, combat this inescapable issue is by expanding your transportation possibilities by employing transloading services.

To further reduce the lead times, it’s crucial to partner with a 3PL with many different air, ground, ship, and rail contacts. What this will do for you is increase your likelihood of securing the freight hauling you need because even if your 3PL is having an issue with one of its suppliers, it has others it can turn to.

Again, this is not a guarantee that lead times will automatically be able to be reduced by using transloading services; just that it will increase the chances of you being able to secure what you require in a timely fashion.

3. Adding Flexibility

While the example used previously was between truck and rail, transloading even adds further flexibility because it can also incorporate aircraft and ocean vessels. And it doesn’t even have to be between two different methods of transport to be considered transloading.

It can go from one ship to another. Or be flown in from out of the country to an airport, where it goes onto a truck to finish the journey. The main point is this opens up a wealth of options for your transloading service needs and doesn’t pigeonhole you into a single type of transport.

4. Providing Storage

Transloading services can actually coincide with fulfillment or distribution services. Distribution centers deploy cross docking as a practice. This is where a truck drives to the distribution center on an inbound side of the building, the truck is unloaded and then the merchandise is processed in one of two ways:

  1. It is taken directly across the distribution center and loaded onto an outbound truck, to move toward the end of its overall route.
  2. The merchandise can be stored for any amount of time needed and then loaded onto an outbound truck at the time you need it. This is still considered transloading and cross docking, even if it’s delayed.

To expound upon the second point, your 3PL can offer much more than just transloading services. It can store your products in its warehouse or distribution center, fulfill orders under your direction, provide reverse logistics (returns) and much more. So you can look at your 3PL provider as a true Swiss Army knife for many of your needs, and not solely as the company that transloads for you. 

A container ship arrives at an ocean port

Get Your Transloading Services From Transload Services USA

Once you’re up to speed on why you require transloading services, let Transload Services USA, powered by R+L Global Logistics, handle the details of what can be a complex undertaking with a lot of moving parts. We have the skills and resources to make something that can be difficult much easier for your business goals.

As a third-party logistics company, R+L Global Logistics has access to 18-wheelers, spots on cargo trains and even ships and planes should the need arise. Transloading with us will be a great proposition for you since we won’t be limited to just one or two modes of transport.

R+L Global Logistics has ample warehousing all over the United States so that you can store your goods at any point during the transloading process. Also, if the preferred destination for your products is in a warehouse until they’re ready to be sold, we’ve got you covered there as well.

The services that we can provide include:

So when you’re prepared to use transloading services, connect with our team at R+L Global Logistics to find out exactly how we can help you reach your goals. Call us at (352) 282-4588 for a free quote and to learn more about the R+L Global Logistics difference.

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