Contact Us
(866) 757-1109
Get a Quote

What is Transloading? A Guide From Logistics Experts

Transloading occurring at an ocean port at night
What is Transloading? A Guide From Logistics Experts
Transloading is becoming an increasingly valuable approach to use in logistics. Find out what transloading is, how it fits into the larger supply chain, and more in our complete guide.
By Transload Services USA
 | September 29, 2021
 | Share
Copy URL to Clipboard
Last Modified: August 8, 2023

What is transloading? With the complexities of freight shipping in normal times, businesses are always looking for solutions to get their goods transported faster, more efficiently and at a reasonable rate. During trying times, those same companies need more creative methods to get the same job done. That’s where this flexible transportation service shines.

Transloading is the process of unloading freight from one mode of transportation to another as a shipment moves through the supply chain. This is often a required step in the shipping process. However, transloading can also be used to reduce storage costs, speed up delivery times, and more. 

Our comprehensive and thorough guide below outlines everything there is to know about transloading. In addition to the information provided, we also have logistics and supply chain experts available. They can answer all of your transloading questions and help you identify the next steps that you need to take. 

A semi truck drives down the highway

What is the Definition of Transloading?

Transloading occurs when a shipment must be moved from one method of transportation to another in order to complete the journey. Specifically, the products themselves are moved, not an entire shipping container. An example of how this happens is when a shipping container begins as a railroad car but can’t make the entire trip via that mode of transport. It would then be offloaded from the shipping container onto a truck to make it to its final destination.

In reality, though, this can be the movement of any transport to another. Such as a plane landing at the airport and the freight being transloaded onto trucks to complete the last leg of the journey. Another scenario could see a shipment from a cargo ship being loaded onto a train, which is then offloaded onto a truck. This might not seem ideal but depending on where the freight needs to end up, it’s often the most efficient and timely solution. Here is an example:

  1. Freight containers unloaded at a port
  2. Freight goes into a separate container, on either a truck or train
  3. That shipment travels to the end point, or
  4. The shipment is transloaded again, from a train to a truck
  5. The truck takes the freight the rest of the way to its destination 

At first glance, it might seem counterintuitive to have to move the freight around an extra time but it wouldn’t be done unless it was truly the best option. There are four main modes of transportation and only one of them — trucks — can generally arrive directly at the destination for unloading. So it makes sense for the trucks to go where the trains, planes, or boats are, pick up the freight and make the rest of the trip.

What Does Transload Freight Mean?

The days of just throwing freight onto one vehicle and making 100 percent of the trip by itself is all but over. Not that it can’t happen, especially for shorter, domestic trips. But any imported goods not from Mexico or Canada are going to come to America mostly via ocean or air. Once the freight gets here, it turns into transload freight immediately once it’s offloaded and then put onto a different mode of transportation.

Transloading is also sometimes referred to as cross-docking when it takes place in a warehouse setting. However, this isn’t the same as transshipping freight (which will be explained in greater detail later). Transloading can even happen from truck to truck, ship to ship and rail to rail. There are no limitations on how freight is transloaded. The overall aim should just be that it limits cost and is done so with no extra or wasted effort. 

What is Transloading in Logistics?

Transloading in logistics is the act of offloading freight from one method of transportation and then loading it onto another so that the cargo can make its complete journey. This can happen because it is either needed or it simply makes the freight hauling more convenient. As the world has opened up to a truly global economy, transloading has become a common practice in the supply chain journey.

In nearly every case of transloading, the final part of the transportation will take place via truck. The reason for this is, of the four main types of transport — rail, boat, plane and truck — only the truck can access nearly any place. The other three will almost always need to rely on at least a second mode of transportation to make a complete delivery possible.

Transload containers sitting at an ocean port

How Does Transloading Benefit the Supply Chain?

Transloading has many benefits as a key cog in the supply chain and that’s enough reason that it should be considered for your freight hauling needs. In fact, some of the positive points of the process are helping alleviate some of the bigger pain points in freight shipping today.

John Kilbride, the Director of Fulfillment and Distribution for R+L Global Logistics, said that it can be a big help in one particular area.

“The logistics industry has been under pressure from a number of directions,” Kilbride said. “One area that has hit many of our customers hard is the difficulty of getting their product out of the ports. Often, they are faced with delays due to a lack of available equipment and no place to put their product. To help our customers, we are offering our services for transload and cross-docking.”

Besides just trying to find a way around shipping delays, here are some real-life points to using transload for your freight:

Improves Supply Chain Flexibility

One of the first things that using transloading does for the supply chain is to improve its flexibility. This occurs by giving a business more options during the course of shipping and also the ability to successfully pivot should one mode of transportation not be enough. It is also helpful if issues occur as well. 

Transloading can also be used in conjunction with cross docking to give retailers additional options when trying to traverse the sometimes difficult world of freight shipping. With the current climate making business shipping even more complex, companies that can simplify that process are the ones that will be best set up to win in the retail space.     

Allows For Business Growth

Since transloading can act as a makeshift distribution center of sorts, this is an option that can allow a company to scale its operations upward at any point where it feels the timing is right. Improving the supply chain flexibility and bandwidth gives you more easily reachable destinations for your products and increases the amount of shipment capacity and choices.

It might be challenging to find enough trucks to make long-haul trips at the moment. But — by using a train or boat for part of the trip and getting the merchandise to a transloading facility where a truck or trucks for your shipment will be waiting to be loaded up — it should allow your business to increase the size of its shipments in the fact of rising demand.

Consolidation Of Shipments

Maybe you’re shipping a single container or truckload to multiple different parts of the country. This is where transloading can really shine as a viable alternative. You can have items destined for several different places in the same shipment and — once it reaches a transload facility — they can then be transloaded onto different trucks at the terminal. Each truck will then deliver the shipments to their separate final destination.

The consolidation of shipments on the front end can help you avoid needing multiple containers and/or spots on a boat, rail, plane, or truck. In the long run, this can save you both space and money. It can also open up more possibilities for moving freight in a tough climate.   

Speeds Up Shipments

The entire point of transloading exists to increase efficiencies in the freight shipping industry. If the process itself is more efficient, that can manifest itself in the form of a shorter time for freight to travel from point A to point B.

The thought is that instead of freight sitting around, it can be almost always on the move. The hour or two it might take to unload one vehicle onto another might still pale in comparison to the days-long delays that could be encountered looking for one transport mode that can make most of or the entire trip. Transloading keeps your shipping agile amid the various hurdles of modern-day supply chain hiccups.   

Reduces Overall Costs

True, there is a transload fee to be found. However, this can still be more cost-effective than waiting through delays or finding a cost-effective way to ship the freight without using transloading. Besides general efficiencies, one of the biggest reasons to engage in transload shipping is the idea that it will save a business money.

Especially for domestic shipping in the U.S., truck and rail are going to be much cheaper than air and are a great pair to use in carrying out transloading. Rail itself is less expensive than truck over long distances, not to mention being more environmentally conscious. Having the bulk of a shipment be transported via rail and then finished off with a truck is often an effective solution.

This is not for every case but the list of modes of transport from least to most expensive would generally be:

Need Less Warehousing

If you’re not quite as interested in the order fulfillment aspect of storing and then distributing your goods at a later time, transloading can help eliminate that need in some cases. Instead of your freight having to go to a distribution center or warehouse to await the next process of moving, transloading keeps your products moving. In many cases, this can significantly cut down on costly warehouse fees.

If you require or do want warehousing, that’s also fine and you can easily get help in that arena from a trusted 3PL provider. But once again, having the ability to engage in transloading gives you an option to make better decisions based on the unique situations each freight load could encounter. So if you don’t want your freight sitting in a warehouse, consider transload.  

Transload containers on a train

What is the Transloading Process?

The actual transloading process follows a general path that is flexible to help suit the needs of your freight. The basic principle involves one vehicle being 100 percent unloaded, or a shipping container on said vehicle. The freight that comes off the first vehicle then is carefully loaded onto another vehicle. It can be a different type of vehicle or even the same kind — it’s still all transloading.

For it to be considered transloading and not a different kind of shipping, it cannot stay in the original shipping container, if that’s what it was originally transported in. For light freight, a simple conveyor belt might be deployed to easily and safely move freight between. However, for heavier or palletized freight, machinery such as forklifts and cranes is often used to smoothly and effortlessly transition the commodities. 

What is an Example of Transloading?

There are a variety of transloading examples that can be pointed to but since some of those have already been fleshed out, here’s a less common way transloading is used to make global logistics work.

There are times when a large ocean freighter might be too large for a specific port that is geographically preferable to enter. A way to circumvent this limitation is to have a smaller boat go out to deep enough waters to meet the bigger sea vessel and take on the freight via transloading to get it into port. This also might be an opportunity for the cargo to almost immediately be transloaded again once it reaches land and then is moved from the boat now carrying it onto trucks or rail.

But to reiterate what transloading is, it’s any time that freight is completely taken off an initial method of transportation and put into another vehicle. As long as it is not an entire container that’s moved from one location to another without being first unloaded — that’s transshipment, which will be further detailed in an ensuing section — you will have an example of transloading.

Another example is when your goods are on a train but unable to complete the full shipment delivery because it’s reached a break-of-gauge point, which means the size of the tracks is different. While this can be fixed in real-time, it can be time-consuming and also requires specialized equipment or accommodations to get the train over the difference in track. In some cases, it’s advantageous to pull a second train in proximity to the first one and transload the entire freight load — especially if a bogie exchange or variable gauge is unavailable.

What Does a Transloader Do?

A transloader’s sole purpose is to exist on a team of workers located at a transloading facility in order to perform the function of transloading. However, at a transloading facility, there are a variety of different roles. There are different classifications of jobs a transloader can fill and each one plays a huge part in the positive outcomes. 

Transload facility manager

This person makes sure the entire facility is operating at high capacity with an eye toward preventing both workplace injury and damage to the freight. Any issues at the facility end up on this person’s desk. Some tasks that the transload facility manager is responsible for include: 

  • Ensuring proper workflows
  • Scheduling maintenance for the setup
  • Recruiting
  • Hiring 

This is a job that forces the person to wear many hats, manage many employees, and also must be ultra-organized in order to be successful in the role.

Transload operator

This is a blue-collar profession that really requires physically robust people who will be able to constantly lift and move freight all day long while being on their feet. 

But it’s not all about being brawny in this job. Every transload operator has to have the intelligence to understand the rules regarding transloading. This includes moving all types of different freight and the standard operating procedures of the transloading facilities being worked at. Many transload operators are asked to travel to different terminals for work, so that should also be a consideration for anyone interested.

Also, a transload operator can refer to those who operate heavy machinery that is either preferred or mandated. Therefore, many transload operators are licensed to perform those tasks on certain pieces of equipment, which all have their own requirements 

Freight conductor

Since much of the actual transloading takes place with trains entering the facility and then being unloaded onto trucks before moving along again, a specific person is needed to orchestrate all of that movement. So a freight conductor’s role is to coordinate the crews on each train and get the various cars in position — safely and efficiently — to be properly positioned for loading and unloading.

This is a specially trained position that requires months of training, both in a classroom setting and on the job before it can be worked independently. But it’s of high importance to any transloading facility for the aforementioned reasons.  

Lumper/Warehouse worker

While the included word warehouse might be a bit confusing, this would be someone who’d possibly operate a forklift while also helping to verify shipment quantities and overall accuracy. This can be a general job with many responsibilities (including keeping the transload facility clean) but organized, hard-working, fast-paced people who can also work safely are prized for this position.

This type of worker can run a pallet jack, forklift, or other machinery as well inside a distribution center or warehouse.  

A transload arm puts a container onto a truck chassis

What Kind of Equipment is Needed for Transloading?

Depending on the commodities involved, there are many different types of equipment that can be used to complete the transloading process. It is all either necessary to most effectively do perform this work, or just makes it easier on the hard-working employees charged with the task of completing it. 


If you’ve ever been inside a warehouse or distribution center, you’ll be familiar with these. Either manual or motorized, these conveyor belts are instrumental in being able to quickly move boxes from, let’s say, a rail car into the back of an 18-wheeler.

They are essential since they can be set up between both points of the transload and make it so that potentially heavy goods don’t have to be lugged across long distances. These can be simple metal conveyors with wheels on the bottom that can be moved into place or ones with mechanized belts to effortlessly send boxes along their merry way.

Regardless of which type of conveyor is utilized, they’re handy tools in the transload field and you’ll find them inside warehouses, distribution centers and (yes) transloading facilities.


Forklifts are more likely to be used when the transloading takes place in a distribution center or warehouse scenario. However, they can also be used at transload facilities as long as there is solid, mostly even ground on which to work.

These machines, which need a dedicated transload worker to operate, can easily move pallets filled with freight. They can also be used to move oversized items across their forks. Regardless of what’s being transported on the forklift, it must be done safely. Forklift safety guidelines are set by the machinery’s manufacturer specifications and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Forklifts are invaluable because they can move freight quickly even to an 18-wheeler 100 yards away and also allow a sizable amount of weight to be shifted in a single trip. Like with most vehicles or heavy equipment, those who drive a forklift must be properly licensed and have undergone extensive safety training.  


Cranes can be used for transloading (and its cousin transshipment) because of their ability to pick up entire shipping containers and move them wherever desired. Cranes are used regularly at ports of entry, as it’s the best and most simple method of unloading shipping containers to the ground. 

Smaller container cranes than those found at ports can be used in a variety of ways. One situation could find a container crane sidle up to a train and move the container closer to another train or truck to be unloaded. The empty container then gets moved back to its original place or to a different location at the transloading station to be filled once again. They are also handy in scenarios where break-of-gauge is in place as a way to circumvent that roadblock.


These are used for items such as chemicals, fuels, liquids and food products such as grain or dairy. The two pumps used in the transloading process are sliding vane pumps and reciprocating gas compressors.

A sliding vane pump is so named because it uses a rotor to pull the liquid behind each of the sliding vanes and into a pumping chamber. Once this rotor turns, the liquid is moved to the other side where a pumping chamber squeezes down and dispels the commodity out the other side. This works great if you’re trying to transfer a liquid from a tanker on a train to a tanker truck, or vice versa.

A reciprocating gas compressor doesn’t work exactly the same but the effect in moving gas from one place to another is the same idea. The gas enters one end, then is put under high pressure through compression to move it into the second container.

It’s worth asking what types of commodities benefit from using pumps as a means of movement. Examples include:

Sprawling stacks of transload shipping containers

What is a Transload Container?

A transload container is a shipping container, usually packed and then loaded onto a boat, a train or — in less common cases — a flatbed truck. The container itself helps the freight travel part of the trip until the actual transloading begins. Once that happens, the container is then emptied either into another shipping container or into the back of a freight truck.

Most containers used in container transloading start their journey internationally and are known as ocean shipping containers. There are many different sizes but three, in particular, are the most popular:

  • 20-foot shipping container
  • 40-foot shipping container
  • 40-foot high cube shipping container

Based on your needs, you might end up with any of these, although you’re usually welcome to specify what your preference is. The 20- and 40-foot standard shipping containers have the same height (7 feet, 10 inches) and width (7 feet, 8.5 inches) but the 40-foot container is twice as long.

A high cube container gives the interior of the shipping box extra height (by 11 inches) to 8 feet, 9 inches. While the 40-foot high cube container is more popular, this kind also comes in a 20-foot length as well.

On the other hand, an intermodal container has slightly different dimensions — 8.5 feet tall and 8 feet wide — which lends it more to traversing the world on multiple modes of transport that it was designed exactly to do.

What is a Transload Facility?

A transloading facility is a staged area — it could be out in the open or even in a warehouse-type structure — where the swapping of freight from one mode of transportation to another happens. When the facilities are outdoors, the location is usually easily accessible by both trains and trucks, so it’s next to railroad tracks that are themselves not far from highways.

While railroads have a sizable spot in the logistics business, there are a lot of businesses, stores and even warehouses that simply don’t have tracks leading right to them. That’s why transloading facilities exist.

Transloading and the corresponding facilities can play a huge role in freight movement in the face of massive port congestion, something Kilbride was quick to point out.

“In a transload situation, we can bring their product to one of our locations – Ocala (Fla.), Atlanta or Los Angeles,” Kilbride said. “We can take their product out of the container and load it onto a truck or trucks for delivery. The services allow the customer to get their product out of the port, avoid high demurrage costs and late fees, which can run into the thousands (of dollars).”

Kilbride’s comment about his company’s locations is certainly an important point about transload facilities. Like many things with freight transportation, transloading can be greatly aided in efficiency with strategic spots in the United States. 

While the proximity of Atlanta and Los Angeles to many people in their respective regions is inherently understood, Ocala deserves recognition as well. Ocala’s strategic location in North Central Florida can easily reach all of the state’s nearly 21.5 million residents (and customers) in a manner of hours.

  • Three of Florida’s biggest cities — Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville — are within a two-hour drive from Ocala. Two other major U.S. metropolitan areas — Miami and Atlanta — can be reached in less than a day. 

What Does a Transloading Facility Have?

A transloading facility has it all — or at least everything you’d ever need to have your transload taken care of. Any way you slice it, at a complete and efficient transloading facility, you won’t be left hanging when it comes time to move your freight.

Let’s look at exactly what a transloading facility should have and how these items are used to finish this process.

  • Workers: At the transload facility, workers are needed to plan and execute in order for transloading to be smooth. The employees are skilled in the process of transloading and can perform a number of tasks related to that type of freight shipping. That can range from the manual labor needed to shift the commodities from one kind of transport to another, or the machine-operating expertise to do the same.   
  • Machinery: Whether it’s cranes, forklifts, pumps or conveyors, large amounts of potentially heavy freight require more than just the muscle of men and women to be moved. A facility where freight needs to be redistributed needs to have these tools in order to do so.  
  • Staging area: This can be indoors or outdoors, alongside train tracks, or even at a distribution center. But there needs to be a staging area where goods can be easily loaded and unloaded without jamming up any other supply chain work potentially being done in the area. 
  • Easy access to the interstate: This is a must when part of the transloading requires trucks to move freight. The transload facility should be located in a manner where 18-wheelers can reach them easily and offer simple on and off-the-road access. Transloading facilities need a lot of space, so they might not be right next to major highways. They should be close enough that the trucks are not wasting a lot of extra time and fuel just to reach them.  
Overhead view of a truck driving on an overpass

What’s the Difference Between Transloading and Transshipment?

Surprisingly, transshipment actually has more in common with intermodal transportation than it does transloading. During both intermodal and transshipment, the shipping containers involved with the freight inside are what are moved. This means the freight inside is not unloaded until it reaches the end of the line.

Transshipment is different from both intermodal and transloading in that it refers specifically to the practice of moving a shipping container from one ship to another before it is then shipped to another spot. Both transloading and intermodal shipping can utilize all the different modes of moving freight to complete a single journey.

Transshipment can technically be a part of an intermodal or transload shipment, but again the phrase is used to denote the aforementioned movement between vessels that takes place before the means of transport transitions to that.

The act of transshipment can also occur either out at sea or in waterways that are either just outside or even inside the port of entry. This is also used to connect ports around the world that might not have direct access to one another. This limited access can be a result of many things including too much time or resources being needed to get to certain ports.

It can also be used if the desired port is congested or unavailable due to low tide. Transshipment is something to be done within the laws of U.S. Customs and Border Protection though. Some countries use the practice to try to avoid tariffs or trade restrictions, which America deems to be illegal. 

What’s the Difference Between Transloading and Cross Docking?

Earlier, we talked about how palletized loads could be transloaded. While that still holds true, it’s also noteworthy that many ocean containers are actually loaded directly onto the floor of the structure without going onto pallets.

On these occasions, the loads are actually placed on a pallet at the transload facilities. Also, transloading can refer to multiple modes of transportation used while in cross docking. Usually, a truck shows up at a distribution center where it is unloaded. The unloaded freight is then moved across the center to an outbound truck that might have consolidated loads to go to a single retailer.

With cross docking, there’s a greater possibility that an already palletized portion of freight will be placed right onto a waiting truck. It can also be broken down and redistributed among several outbound trucks or placed inside the distribution center to wait a certain time for this to happen.

In contrast, transloading is more about freight that is on the move from its start to finish. This doesn’t mean the freight could never be stored. The main goal of transloading is to move the goods from one transport to another with the immediate target of it reaching its resale destination.

Transloading, because of the ships and trains that make up part of its mechanisms, takes place mostly outdoors and is therefore much more open to the elements. Cross docking does require trucks to encounter the same weather both entering and leaving the warehouse, but cross docking takes place in a distribution center that is shielded from inclement weather while the freight is being moved between vehicles. 

Still, according to Kilbride, cross docking can be worth looking into in cases where it might be preferable to transload.

“In a cross dock arrangement we can take (our customers’) product out of the ports, unload the containers and store the product short-term — normally a few days or weeks at a daily charge — then load it on a truck or trucks when they have arranged a location for delivery,” he said.

Cross docking is another avenue that you can take when trying to navigate the supply chain. It’s important to analyze the differences between it and transloading and make the determination on which will be right based on your exact needs, or availability, at the time.

What is a Cross Dock Terminal?

After having just covered what cross docking is and how it takes place at a distribution center or warehouse, let’s zero in on what the actual cross docking terminal itself is. We’ll also examine its role in being able to make cross docking a success.

The docking terminals in question are elevated openings referred to as dock doors in the sides of the structure that allow trucks to back into and be easily unloaded. They have roll-down doors or shutters to close the openings when they are not in use. The reason dock doors are elevated is so the bottom of the truck’s back is lined up with the floor for easy loading and unloading. Sometimes the fit isn’t perfect, so ramps are used to bridge the gap between the truck and the entrance to the distribution center.

The trucks are unloaded on the inbound side of the center, which is generally clearly marked. Once in the warehouse, the goods — which are often palletized — are sorted in a distinct way so that they end up on the corresponding truck on the outbound side of the facility. This can be as straightforward as rolling a pallet across the way on a pallet jack or forklift and going right onto an outbound truck. In other cases, iit can necessitate the pallet being broken down and resorted so that it can go onto different trucks.

On the outbound side, there are empty trucks waiting to be loaded. Even when trucks are being waited on, sometimes the freight is already placed on the outbound side so that it can be quickly and correctly loaded once the vehicle arrives.

A container ship pulls up to a port for transloading

What Is The Difference Between Cross Docking and Break Bulk?

Different logistics such as transloading, cross docking and break bulk share some similarities. To the naked eye, in fact, it might be difficult to find the defining characteristics of each that truly separate each one from the other.

However, when drilling down a little deeper, there are contrasts that justify naming them as different types of shipping. This holds true with cross docking and break bulk. Let’s quickly list some of the similarities before diving into why they’re not the same.

Both take place in a warehouse setting and are usually the product of an inbound truck arriving, the freight being unloaded and then reloaded onto an outbound truck for its final delivery. That’s where the two could be confused for one another.

However, it’s what occurs while in the warehouse that outlines the divergence between cross docking and break bulk. Cross docking is usually the process of taking palletized freight and moving it across the distribution center to another truck to complete the rest of its journey. Sometimes, the pallets can be further broken down to put boxed or packaged items onto multiple trucks.

In the case of break bulk, it takes that concept even further. That same pallet or boxed goods actually are completely broken down so that a customer or retailer can receive a smaller quantity to their exact specifications.

Another reason break bulk exists is in some cases where the commodity in question needs to be packaged differently before the customer receives it. It may also be that the items are parts of something that require assembly once they reach the customer. An example of the latter would be car parts that must be shipped so they can be added to a vehicle for an end product.

Looking at the way cross docking works, the paths of both are the same until the fork in the road appears. In short, many break bulk shipments are really cross docking at the start, with a part of the freight broken off to be put on a separate truck from the cross-docked materials.   

What Is Intermodal Shipping?

Intermodal shipping simply means that two or more methods of transportation were used in order to complete a single shipment. This might make it sounds exactly like transloading but a little further down, it will be explained why they are not exactly the same.

This type of shipping utilizes specialized containers called intermodal containers so that a shipment of goods can easily be transferred between trains, trucks and cargo ships in a seamless manner. In today’s climate, it’s becoming rarer that a single shipment of goods will be completed through just one transportation mode. In fact, with the current truck driver shortage, instances of intermodal shipping are on the rise.

  • Railroads account for 1 out of every 4 shipping dollars for intermodal transportation in the United States

In relation to transloading, the main difference is the loading and unloading. In transloading, the goods themselves are taken out of one vehicle or container and moved to another one so the original shipping container doesn’t continue to hold the freight. In intermodal shipping, the entire shipping container is moved, so the freight itself is never unpacked until it reaches a distribution center or its final destination.

Like transloading, intermodal shipping is another option to help goods move through the supply chain. It can be utilized to great effect, as can transloading, and is another option to ponder whenever you need freight moved. 

What is Drayage?

Drayage is a term reserved for logistics and the supply chain and refers to a short trip for freight, usually in the same area as the port it enters through. Drayage shipments are meant to be freight hauling over small distances and are used almost as a connector inside the supply chain.

An example of this would be if shipping containers arrived in the port of Jacksonville or Tampa (both in Florida) and then were transferred to a truck either still in the container or via transloading. This freight would then be taken to a distribution center in Ocala to be sorted out or even cross docked before it’s ready to be dispersed to its final location for sale.

Drayage might cost an additional fee, or be included in the quoted price for a complete movement of freight. It is never a standalone service, though, since its sole purpose is to act as the “first mile” of the overall journey. But drayage doesn’t always have to be just a short jaunt from a port. It can originate at the port, but may need to go to a yard or warehouse before its leg of the move is over.

Drayage isn’t just an option, but a necessity in some regards. This is because it often begins the flow of commodities into America and assists in alleviating congestion at the point of entry. Also, drayage can end up being cheaper because the freight is on the move rather than sitting at a port and being charged demurrage fees — which are charged to the importer when their freight on a ship is not unloaded in the agreed-upon time.

So the ability to use drayage can be both a time- and money-saving choice that is yet another available alternative to keep your freight moving toward where it’s needed.    

Transload trucks and trains at a rail terminal

Is Transloading the Same as Intermodal?

By its most general definition, transloading is a form of intermodal shipping because it also uses two or more modes of transport. So at a basic level, yes, transload shipping is the same as intermodal shipping. However, there is one major differentiator between the two that does make them slightly dissimilar. That is the way the freight is transferred in between transportation vehicles.

Intermodal: With this kind of shipment, the cargo is in shipping containers that they stay in for the duration of the journey. So while the shipping containers can freely be moved between trucks, planes and trains, it is not offloaded from the containers until the end of the trip.

Transloading: On the other hand, as previously mentioned, transloading also employs multiple transportation methods. However, it doesn’t stay in the same shipping container the entire journey. In fact, whether it’s through muscle or machine, a train car (for instance) is fully unloaded and then re-loaded into the back of an 18-wheeler or onto the flatbed of a truck.

To a certain degree, these two kinds of transportation can work in tandem.

Transloading Rail to Truck

This is a popular method of transloading because it combines the economical savings of using rail — especially over long distances — with the directness of a truck to drive your products right to the door of retailers. To illustrate how this would work, let’s use a specific instance.

Let’s say that your commodities enter the Port of Los Angeles and need to eventually get to Chicago. Regardless of the exact route, that’s a minimum 2,000-mile journey for the freight no matter the mode of transport chosen. If expedited shipping is not a requirement, then the most efficient way to get the goods shipped would be to have them loaded onto a train. There’s no exact place the train must be unloaded but to get it into Chicago. It can be transloaded from the rail closer to the point of delivery with the truck easily driving into downtown Chicago to the customer.

Everyone’s business needs are different but for a lot of shipments, this is a good example of how transloading works in a real-world setting when being planned out. The actual process of doing the transloading is the same as previously described. The rail takes the freight to a transloading facility where it is transferred from the rail car into the back of the 18-wheeler using manpower, machinery or both. Then the truck gets it the rest of the way there.

Why Do I Need Transloading Services?

A major reason why transloading services are actually needed and not merely wanted is that they’re likely to be essential in making sure your freight can get from its starting point to its end destination. 

No one would have come up with the idea of loading and unloading freight mid-journey unless there was a real, tangible advantage in doing so. In that case, the most basic modes of transportation — rail, boat, plane and truck — all have limitations.

Plane: Doesn’t need roads because it can fly anywhere, but planes can only land at airports or airfields, so you still need another form of transport to complete the rest of the delivery. Also, planes are always going to be the most expensive option.

Boats: This is often the cheapest and most logical option when getting goods from overseas. However, the downsides are that it’s the slowest way to move goods — if that matters to you — and it also is limited by relying on a rail or truck to actually deliver the commodities once they reach port.

Rail: Especially for longer journeys, rail is usually the most environmentally friendly and cost-efficient option. For shorter trips, though, trucks can rival it on cost and rail still needs a truck to connect the entire freight hauling since very few businesses and warehouses have train tracks leading right to them.

Trucks: Not always the cheapest option and cannot be used exclusively for any overseas merchandise., but also very hard to beat for ease of booking and also the level of convenience. Once your freight is on land, there isn’t anywhere that a truck cannot deliver it to.

So basically, what all of these modes of transportation have in common is that not one of them can be used every single time for 100 percent of the hauling of a load of freight. That is why services like transloading and some of the others mentioned have evolved in how to navigate the supply chain. So plan accordingly!  

Is Transloading Right for My Business?

No one knows the exact needs of your business other than you, but it’s true enough to directly say that transloading helps more and more businesses every day. With the supply chain being more globally oriented now than at any other time in history, goods often travel many thousands of miles on multiple types of transport before reaching the end of the line.

So to decide if transloading is right for your business, it might be fair to answer these questions:

  • Is transloading your best option to move freight?
  • Will transloading save you time and/or money?
  • Does transloading cut down on potential delays?

If you can answer affirmatively to even one of these questions, then transloading is right for your business. If the answer to all is yes, then, even more, the reason to seriously consider transloading as a viable option.

Another small thing to ponder is how many boxes or containers need to be transloaded. In transloading, the more individual pieces of freight that must be moved at a transloading facility, the more it will cost the person or business having the commodities shipped. 

Whether you need to transport granular goods, like sand, frac sand, or soda ash, fresh produce like agricultural products, or bulky cargo like coal, there is a transloading option for your business.

Aerial view of a massive transload terminal

What Are The Benefits of Transloading?

After just talking about whether transloading is right for your business, let’s go over the benefits of this type of shipping. First and foremost, transloading will benefit you if you’re looking for a way to cut down on possible shipping delays. If your goods originate from overseas, transloading won’t help them clear customs any faster. However, once they have cleared through customs, the process of domestic shipping begins and transloading can help speed that up.

Furthermore, in certain scenarios, transloading can save you money over traditional long-haul trucking or railroads. This is by using several methods of transport to complete that single journey, or even by not having freight sit around incurring additional costs because it’s not moving and must now be stored somewhere.

Last, sometimes it is simply the best option from the perspective of the trip the freight must endure in order to reach the place it’s destined for in America. If freight has to go from Houston to Denver, transloading might be vastly superior to having the goods take a train the whole way, or putting it on a truck for the entire duration. 

How Does Transloading Reduce Costs?

Transloading can easily reduce costs because you can use cheaper transportation (such as rail) for the majority of the trip. Once the railcar is unable to be used anymore, have the transload take place by moving your goods to a truck to complete the rest of the movement. The other way in which it can help reduce costs is by not having your commodities just sitting at a port or stored in a warehouse. Storage fees can add up quickly. Thankfully, transloading can alleviate these costly fees.

The less time your freight spends sitting around, the cheaper your freight transport should theoretically be. Earlier, drayage was talked about as a way to keep your freight on the move so demurrage costs were not incurred. That principle can be applied to why transload works as well to avoid excessive and unnecessary fees. 

Another way to save money comes from the consolidation of freight during the transloading process. For instance, the content from three of the 40-foot ocean containers can fit inside a pair of the United States’ 53-foot containers. Using transloading, the products can be shifted into less containers, which should save a business some cash. 

How Can I Integrate Transloading into My Transportation Plan?

The easiest way to integrate transloading into your transportation plan is by partnering with a third-party logistics company to strategize if it makes logical and fiscal sense to do so. Unless your business has vast amounts of experience with logistics, you’ll need an expert to help plan the intricacies of putting together the tight windows needed to pull off a transload of maximum efficiency.

In many cases, you would not be the one dictating whether your freight will be transloaded. In fact, it will more than likely be offered as a suggestion once you tell the 3PL where the freight will originate from and where it must end up. At that point, the feasibility of transloading will come into focus.

As always, your goal should be to have your freight moved in the safest, most direct way with an eye on value. That doesn’t always mean going with the cheapest method of shipping but having an understanding of the best combination of the cost and the services included with that.

Implementing Transloading Strategies

Transloading can certainly improve efficiencies overall when used to move freight but it is not a simple set-it-and-forget-it proposition. Like many of the aspects surrounding the supply chain, using it as a strategic tool will see it garner the best results.

Your third-party logistics provider should be just as interested as you are to conserve resources. This means figuring out the overall preferred route to getting freight offloaded from one place and loaded onto another to keep things moving to the final destination.

It can be used in conjunction with cross docking to be your go-to for order fulfillment services. Similarly, it can just be another option within the confines of transloading to get your freight exactly where it’s desired. 

A green transloading container on a truck

What Commodities are Best for Transloading?

In America, the most common transloading that takes place is from rail transport to a truck. Therefore, there are many items that can be best served by using this method, however, it’s hard to pinpoint them all.

Still, to give you an idea of why transloading is used and also why it has its place in the supply chain, let’s look at a few types of freight that are particularly well-served by transload: 

Steel beams are a great example of a commodity that greatly benefits from transloading. The metal product can be shipped in a rail car and then transloaded at a facility directly onto a flatbed of a commercial truck to finish its journey.

Building materials are a popular category for transloading since the need for them and their durable, heavy profile is more suited for truck and train travel.

Furthermore, almost any class of household goods are able to be transloaded. We’re talking about anything from clothing to electronics to even home furnishings.

Fuel, food, really anything can be best for the transloading process. The only limitations, in truth, are your imagination.  

What Are The Major Challenges of Transloading?

There are multiple major challenges when deciding to have your freight transloaded. But one does stand above the rest — the further risk of damage to your freight during the transloading process.

There’s really no getting around it either; the stark reality is that the more freight is handled, either by humans or machinery, the chances of it getting dropped, dinged, broken and rattled all go up. That’s not to say that if it is moved around, it will automatically be damaged, just that it increases the overall odds.

Another thing you’ll have to accommodate is how to make sure your freight gets to the transloading facility and also what the most convenient facility will be in relation to where the goods need to end up. As previously stated, places that offer transloading are often set up along railroad tracks or — if they’re not — are at least placed in open spaces within a short distance from major highways.

Depending on the 3PL company you partner with, this can present a challenge in itself. However, a 3PL with experience and intelligence in this arena should be able to chart the best course for your freight and not allow this to turn into a major challenge.

How Can I Overcome Transloading Challenges?

One way to guard yourself against the damage that may occur during transloading is by protecting the cargo by supplementing it with freight insurance, which will be covered in the next section. This is one of the biggest challenges you’ll encounter in regard to transload since it increases the number of times that freight is handled and — in turn — boosts its chances of being damaged.

Another way you can overcome the challenge of damage during this type of shipment is by making sure your freight is packaged as securely as time and cost allow for. However, it really might prove to be worth it to take a great interest in sturdy, comprehensive packaging if it will give your products a better chance of surviving shipping.

Pairing with an experienced 3PL provider is a giant relief in dealing with another current headache: the window in which everything needs to work perfectly for a successful transload. This takes careful planning, especially if you want to avoid inadvertent delays due to little more than poor planning.

Ocean transloading port next to a highway

Freight Insurance for Transloading

There are some who feel like transloading might not be right for their business because it increases the amount of time that their shipment is handled and moved. Truthfully, when opting for this method of transport, that is a somewhat unavoidable aspect of it. However, you should not rule out using transloading just for this reason.

While there is no way to completely mitigate the risk of freight suffering from damage, you can absolutely protect yourself financially by making sure you purchase freight insurance. While the freight carrier is expected to provide a minimum amount of insurance coverage, it’s usually not anywhere in the realm of what would completely cover your freight if it were all lost to damage.

The bare minimum coverage also doesn’t insure against certain provisions protected by the Carmack Amendment. This law allows the carrier to provide proof they weren’t responsible for the damage and that one of the following instances occurred:

  • Damage caused by government
  • Damage caused by act of war
  • An act of God
  • The shipper was somehow responsible for the damage
  • The product damaged itself (known as inherent vice)

While some of these are more likely to happen than others, it really puts the onus on the shipper — you — to take the lead on making sure your cargo is not left vulnerable. In this case, all-risk coverage might be exactly what you require. This type of coverage directly insures your cargo and can cover up to the entire value of your freight. Obviously, the higher the value of your freight, the more expensive it will be upfront.

In summation, freight insurance can be invaluable in protecting you against the risks posed by transloading. Sure, it will add an additional expense, but in the event of an unforeseen occurrence, it could save your investment.

What Should I Look for in a Transloading Company?

Picking the right transloading company might not seem like the most straightforward endeavor. However, there are a few things you can look for in any provider of these services to make the most informed decision.

You want a logistics company that has capable equipment to efficiently and properly get the task of transloading accomplished. With this equipment, transloading generally needs a specialized staging area in strategic locations. This includes train tracks or stations located not far from America’s interstates so that trucks can get off and on the road quickly to load up.

The 3PL in question that you’re looking for should be your partner in every sense of the word. You should go with a trusted company that has experience in transloading. A company that takes timeliness and customer service seriously and not just as buzzwords to throw out there.

Also the 3PL should be able to provide other services as well. There might be times when your cargo needs to be temporarily stored if it arrives at its transloading point and there’s not a truck available. Warehousing comes into play in this case, which you’ll want to be sure your partner can assist you with.   

How to Find a 3PL Partner for Transloading

In many cases, finding a preferred partner for transloading isn’t a difficult proposition. However, there are a few different ways you can choose to go about this ultimately important decision. 

Those in the business world who are well-connected can use an old-fashioned method to gather more information: ask a friend. People you trust will usually be best positioned to give you meaningful feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of a 3PL that they’ve personally interacted with. This can be invaluable in assisting in the decision-making process and keeping it from turning into a guessing game.

If that’s not helpful, you can go onto the internet. Nowadays, nearly any company in any industry has ratings online, either with a star or numeric system that also lists pros and cons with additional commentary. In this case, it is of paramount importance to make sure the reviews — to the best of your ability — appear to be legitimate if you are going to base such a crucial choice in part because of them.

You can also go the rudimentary route of contacting 3PL providers directly. This will not be similar to the other two routes already mentioned but it will give you a much better idea of the services they render, the costs associated and even timeframes. All of these factors play an important role in informing your decision. 

Cranes used in ocean port transloading

What Are the Benefits of Working with a 3PL Partner?

The benefits of working with a 3PL partner are numerous and each of these strong points individually can positively impact your ability to get freight moved, whether it’s through transloading or other means.

The general answer comes first — working with a 3PL partner gives you access to help across the entire supply chain. They can either completely take tasks off your plate and do them for you, for a fee. Anything you want to do yourself or feel like you just need to be advised on, a well-rounded 3PL can also offer you that assistance. Let’s take a closer look at the individual benefits of employing this type of partner.


Third-party logistics will make sure your freight is able to be moved, first and foremost. Many have the four major forms of transport — truck, train, boat, plane — on offer. In these cases, 3PLs either own the assets themselves or form strategic partnerships directly with the operators and work with them to book loads.

Neither is necessarily better than the other, but they’re two different ways that a 3PL will make sure they’ve got capacity to have your order able to be moved. Furthering the viability of partnering with a 3PL, the company should also be able to give you sound advice on what the best mode of transportation is for your individual scenario.

This includes the oft-mentioned transloading, which is absolutely a specialized form of transportation that needs to be done just right to avoid massive damage done to its freight. But it also encompasses modes such as:

So no matter how you want or need your freight moved, your 3PL should provide the benefit of giving you lots of options to accomplish this.


As a fast-paced business, there might be times when you deem it a good idea to have your goods stored either short- or long-term based on your unique needs. Well, a 3PL can certainly help with that. Whether it’s a few months in the lead-up to the holiday season or as part of a years-long plan, they’ve likely got you covered. Just as likely, the provider will have warehouses in desirable locations across the United States to allow storage and transportation hubs.

While your freight resides in the warehouse, it will be protected and eligible for additional services such as order fulfillment, pick and pack, kitting and even reverse logistics (aka product returns). Without utilizing a warehouse in some regard, you won’t have access to any of these services, should you ever find yourself needing them.

Cross Docking

This is a form of transload where a truck reaches a distribution center, is unloaded and usually moved to the other side of a giant warehouse where it leaves on a different, outbound truck to continue the rest of the journey. Sometimes this type of freight movement is necessary to actually get freight moved all the way through the supply chain.

Like some of the other benefits, this might not be something at the start that you feel like you inherently need. However, having the option can end up being an integral part of facilitating the movement of your freight or just helping maintain flexibility should it be an attractive alternative.

Welcomed Assistance

When you start your business, you might know from the start that you’re unable or simply don’t want to have to execute certain steps in the supply chain process. This includes clearing, shipping, storing, or distributing your freight. Whether it’s abundantly clear immediately or at a later point, arrangements still must be made to have those steps covered.

A 3PL company can help with all kinds of things: clearing customs, filling out the appropriate paperwork completely and accurately, knowing the rules and regulations for importing any commodity, and more. Those aspects can all be a part of your overall strategy both domestically and internationally.

Even if you don’t automatically need to lean on your 3PL for any or all of these sorts of things, it’s certainly nice to know you have it available at any point along the road.   

What is a Strategic Logistics Partner?

Sometimes shipping is a very straightforward proposition — you call up, tell your 3PL you need a truckload from Seattle to Chicago, get a price quote and that’s it. But what if you plan on regularly shipping or setting up an order fulfillment agreement? Then you’ll need a strategic partnership with an outfit that knows exactly what it’s doing. 

A strategic logistics partner can fully provide crucial help and services to ensure that your shipping, fulfillment, distribution and transloading needs are taken care of 100 percent. This is used so that there’s no doubt that any of your goods are shipped and fulfilled in the exact way you envision.

This includes really any regard in which you need this to take place. If it is transloading, great. If a traditional trip in a freight hauler, no matter the distance or method, is called for, your strategic logistics partner can do that for you too. The strategy in question doesn’t even need to be long-term, it just reflects any period of time where you need a clearly defined plan for your supply chain requirements. 

Let Transload Services USA Make Transloading Simple

Now that you’ve received the complete guide to make transloading a simple process, allow it to become even easier by letting Transload Services USA, powered by R+L Global Logistics, handle all of your transload needs. With us at the helm, your freight will be expertly shipped from the start to finish with great care.

We have all the equipment and strategic locations required to make this a seamless transfer of your precious cargo. With the skilled, knowledgeable workers carrying out this task, your freight is at little risk. We also have access to any mode of transport you require, from trucks and trains to boats and planes. You won’t be limited from a freight-hauling standpoint.

We can also offer additional services, including:

So when you’re ready to employ transloading in your freight handling needs, reach out to R+L Global Logistics to find out exactly how we can boost your business while utilizing it. For a free quote with no obligation, call us today at (866) 757-1109 to learn more.

Copy URL to Clipboard

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Top magnifiercrosscross-circle