The Intermodal Advantage: Seamless Inland Transport Solutions for SoCal Shippers

Golden State Logistics

With ports trending toward making shipping more efficient by emphasizing rail, there is a burgeoning need for efficient intermodal logistics.

It is particularly important in Southern California, where the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach rank as the two busiest in the United States and continue to grow and have both had rapid increases in shipments of late. In January, the Port of Los Angeles saw a year-over-year increase in cargo by 18%, and Long Beach saw an increase of 17%.

And those numbers are expected to grow in the future, which is why steps are already being taken to increase the efficiency of intermodal transport.

Known as the gateway for trans-Pacific trade, the Port of Long Beach is in the first phase of building the Pier B On-Dock Rail Support Facility. When completed in 2032, it will double the size of the existing Pier B rail yard to 171 acres and more than triple the volume of on-dock rail capacity. It will be able to service up to 30 locomotives at the same time, and while the intent is to increase cargo flow, it will also make for less environmental impact, reducing emissions and traffic congestion and improving air quality.

Long Beach is one of the few U.S. ports that can handle some of today’s largest shipping vessels.

As massive of an operation as the Port of Long Beach is, ranking as the second busiest in the nation, the Port of Los Angeles is even bigger. It has a whopping 43 miles of waterfront and is the No. 1 container port in North America.

All of this means one thing: Any supply chain companies looking to move cargo through either port – or any port – can eliminate much of the logistics strain through experienced logistics companies that are familiar with navigating the increasingly large and busy West Coast ports.

The Basics of Intermodal Transportation

Intermodal shipping occurs when containers of goods are moved between two modes of transportation. Making seamless transitions is a constant challenge.

Here’s a look at intermodal transport:

  • At the point of origin, products are loaded into a container on a truck chassis.
  • The truck brings the container to an intermodal ramp that is typically close by.
  • From the ramp, the container is moved by chassis again to a flat or well car so it can ship by train for the long haul.
  • After it arrives at another intermodal ramp, the container is again moved to a truck for delivery to a warehouse, store, or distribution center.

The shipment remains in its container the entire time, making it different than transloading. Having all goods stay in the container instead of being separated early for distribution reduces the chance of losing part of the shipment. It also expedites shipments since loading takes less time.

As easy as it sounds, thousands of containers and hundreds of companies are navigating the same ports and the intricacies of intermodal transportation and rail systems each day. Having an efficient delivery system in place plays a major role in keeping shipments on time and avoiding excess costs.

What Products Are Shipped via Intermodal?

Intermodal shipping is a desirable and efficient way of shipping perishables and refrigerated goods such as fruits and vegetables, as well as dry goods, apparel, electronics, pharmaceuticals, construction materials, furniture, retail goods – basically, any product that fits into the containers.

With so many industries taking advantage of intermodal shipping, it’s becoming increasingly important for companies to have networks in place.

The Intermodal Network

Intermodal transportation started gaining popularity when regulatory reform came to the railroads in 1980. Since then, railroads have poured billions of dollars into building intermodal rail service as it accounts for nearly a third of all its shipments.

The contributions of railroads to the supply chain have been game-changers. The intermodal containers are easily moved, helping expedite the shipping process and allowing more goods to be shipped. Since the goods never leave the containers, they can quickly and easily be loaded onto railcars, often stacked two high.

Canadian Pacific Railway, for example, developed an Automated Gate System (AGS) for smartphones so truck entry to ports can be granted in advance, reducing time through the gates to 10 seconds from more than two minutes.

Technology is key in expediting and tracking freight services. It is also key to handle the expected growth of 30% by 2040.

The Strategic Benefits of Intermodal for SoCal Shippers

There is no market that is more focused on going green and aware of the transportation industry’s impact on the environment than Southern California. Intermodal transportation not only helps the environment but is also cost-effective. Here’s a quick look at some of the benefits:

  • Cost Efficiency: Railroads are up to four times more fuel-efficient than trucks and each railcar can hold three to four truckloads’ worth of goods. Plus, intermodal containers can be stacked two high. With routes already optimized by the rail, there is also less rerouting needed, again saving on fuel.
  • Environmental Benefits: Because railroads are so fuel efficient, intermodal transportation reduces greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 75%. It also reduces the number of trucks on the road, lessening road congestion and emissions. Railroads also use zero-emission electric cranes at port terminals. All of this leads to cleaner air.
  • Flexibility and Scalability: Logistics companies use intermodal solutions that can be tailored to meet diverse shipping needs, accommodating fluctuations in volume and demand.
  • Reliability and Safety: Removing trucks from the road by using trains for the long-haul portion of transportation isn’t just cost-effective, it increases reliability and safety. By using rail, fewer trucks will be on the road. It reduces the risk of human error, route delays, and accidents.

Navigating the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles

A year ago, concern over the labor dispute at West Coast ports played a part in a drop in the amount of cargo passing through SoCal ports. With the new labor contract in place, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have more than rebounded, combining to handle nearly 40% of all U.S. container imports from Asia.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Feb. 12 that LA docks had the second-busiest January on record, moving 855,652 cargo containers. Long Beach, meanwhile, handled 674,015 containers in January, a jump of 17.5% from a year earlier.

The volume at both ports is expected to increase in 2024, particularly as concern grows over the labor contract for East Coast ports and the terrorist attacks on freighters in the Red Sea continue, forcing shipments to be rerouted.

How do the SoCal ports handle the increase? Advanced technologies and infrastructure that make both ports key hubs for efficient intermodal transfers.

Key Considerations for Implementing Intermodal Solutions

Intermodal transportation isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. With so many different goods available that can be shipped intermodal, there are a few key points to consider:

  • Selecting the Right Partners: The importance of choosing experienced intermodal service providers with strong track records can’t be overstated, particularly in busy ports like Los Angeles and Long Beach. It’s important that a logistics company can leverage technology to solve problems in a timely manner.
  • Technology Integration: Look for logistics providers that have embraced technology, from customer and trade partner interfacing to fleet connectivity, real-time tracking and response as well as cloud storage. The role of all of the technology is to enhance efficiency and visibility for more intermodal shipments.
  • Customized Planning: By personalizing the intermodal process for each customer and each shipment, route planning and scheduling can maximize the benefits of intermodal for specific business needs.

Golden State Logistics: Your Intermodal Partner in SoCal

Southern California, with its bustling ports and large footprint, presents unique challenges that many importers, and exporters, aren’t familiar with or aren’t experienced in dealing with.

Navigating the complexities of super hubs like Los Angeles and Long Beach takes a partner that doesn't just understand logistics but understands Southern California.

Golden State Logistics (GSL) is that partner.

With deep-rooted expertise in this region, GSL offers tailored solutions that cater specifically to the nuances of Southern California. Customers can confidently navigate this landscape, tapping into GSL’s extensive network and localized knowledge to ensure a smooth logistics experience in several areas:

  • Better Customer Experience: Using a company that specializes in the SoCal market prevents companies from feeling overwhelmed throughout the process.
  • Catering to Each Customer: GSL’s tailored approach for each customer eliminates hiccups in the shipping process.
  • Making It Simple: Importers can navigate the challenges of Southern California with ease because of GSL’s focus and experience in the SoCal market.
  • Relationships Matter: Companies benefit from GSL’s extensive network and localized knowledge.

Founded in 1996, Golden State Logistics prides itself on staying ahead of the curve on industry issues, regulations, technology, stakeholder relationships, and strong relationships with terminals. In addition to intermodal transportation, GSL offers:

  • Port drayage.
  • Transloading.
  • Inland transport.
  • Advanced technology.

Contact Golden State Logistics to learn more or to schedule a shipment.

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