Perishables: Relying on Rail

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The Federal Highway Administration has projected that United States freight shipments will increase 41 percent by 2040.1 As shipments increase, factors such as the driver shortage and newly-implemented electronic logging devices have impacted truckload capacity. Diversifying modes of transportation can help address capacity constraints and keep freight moving.2 Intermodal, or rail shipping, has proven to be a reliable mode of transportation with freight volumes continuing to increase over the past couple of years. Just this past year, intermodal volumes grew 4.7 percent.3

From coal to lumber, many commodities are shipped using rail systems, but one of the top commodities shipped over the rail has been various types of food;4 nearly 99 million tons of food products moved across the United States via rail in 2016 alone.5 Railroads have served as a link between food and consumers that dates back to over 200 years. In that time, the rail network and equipment has evolved to improve capabilities and provide better service. Billions of dollars worth of investments continue to be made to improve infrastructure and ultimately service received.6

Consistent Capacity

With one train capable of hauling the equivalent to hundreds of truckloads at once, rail can help shippers avoid capacity constraints that may cause delays and possibly effect their product.7 Intermodal containers can also be stacked to add further capacity. Shippers utilizing rail can reduce the risk of delays that could be caused over the road such as traffic and break-downs, while keeping a consistent shipping schedule.

Temperature Capabilities

From produce to dairy products, product integrity is a priority as food is transported to their destinations. The shipment of food, particularly perishables, requires a level of service where both time and temperature are priorities throughout the products life-cycle. Intermodal containers are equipped with technology to control the environment and ensure temperature requirements are met. Containers provide real-time visibility so shippers can check the status of their shipments while in transit, which can help set expectations and the further flow of goods to their final destination.8 Intermodal shipping has been dependable for even the most sensitive perishables that require specialized handling throughout their life cycle.

Requirements: On The Right Track

The food supply chain requires a commitment from all of the stakeholders involved to meet product and service requirements as well as the regulations within the shipping industry. For instance, with regulations such as the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), proper training and equipment is needed to ensure the safe transportation of human and animal foods.9 Shippers can partner with third party logistics providers to find intermodal capacity, meet federal and product requirements, and ensure product integrity.

As freight volumes continue to grow, utilizing intermodal shipping solutions can provide the capacity and proper environment to keep products fresh and in the hands of consumers.


  1. https://www.aar.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/AAR-Freight-Railroad-Capacity-Investment.pdf
  2. https://www.foodlogistics.com/transportation/article/21003182/rail-a-strategic-part-of-intermodal
  3. https://www.foodlogistics.com/transportation/article/21003182/rail-a-strategic-part-of-intermodal
  4. https://my.aar.org/Documents/Railroad-Statistics.pdf
  5. https://www.aar.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/AAR-Agriculture-Issue.pdf
  6. https://www.foodlogistics.com/transportation/article/21003182/rail-a-strategic-part-of-intermodal
  7. https://www.foodlogistics.com/transportation/article/21003182/rail-a-strategic-part-of-intermodal
  8. https://www.foodlogistics.com/transportation/article/21003182/rail-a-strategic-part-of-intermodal
  9. https://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/fsma/ucm383763.htm