Jun 20 2018

Rail Freight Remains Reliable and Economical in Today’s Supply Chain Eco-system

Today’s consumer presents shipping companies with many challenges, such as increasing their efficiency, delivering packages in a timely manner and, above all else, always catering to consumer needs.

New methods of delivery have sprung up left and right, including drone delivery, self-driving cars, and in-house delivery, which eliminates the customers’ need to actually go outside of the comfort of their home to pick up a package.

While new technology presents new opportunities for shipping companies, there are a few modes of freight transportation that have withstood the test of time; one of them being rail carriers and rail freight.

What Makes Rail Carriers Important Today?

Trucking services remain a major mode of freight transportation within North America, but there are inherent issues that come with truck freight.

They’re often hindered by unexpected weather changes, like snow, rain, and thunderstorms. Driving on the open road also means truckers will encounter traffic, which means packages are more likely to arrive later than scheduled. Not to mention, truckers must adhere to the laws of the road, therefore speed limits need to be considered and other schedule altering rules.

What makes rail carriers stand out compared to trucking services is their ability to travel long distances in a short amount of time and with a bulkier transportation load. A railcar, for example, can carry upwards of 50 to 70 tons, whereas a truck is usually limited to roughly 26 to 30 tons of freight.

Rail carriers carry a number of other advantages, such as:

- Faster delivery time

- Reliability in deliveries

- Not affected by traffic jams

- Economically friendly

- Efficient long distance delivery

Simply put, rail carriers have an unparalleled dependability factor, rivaled only by air freight. They’re often more organized and their routes and schedules are normally set in stone. If freight is meant to reach a rail yard at a specific time, shippers will rarely have to deal with any setbacks.

Advantages can be Negatives, too

All of that being said, rail carriers aren’t considered the one and only method for shippers; truck freight remains just as important. And that’s because while rail carriers offer nearly unbeatable advantages, those same advantages can play against them, as well.

Rail freight is undeniably more reliable, faster and typically more economical for shippers that can handle freight efficiently in rail yards. But before committing to a rail carrier, it’s important for a shipper to evaluate their delivery needs.

Commodity, for example, can be an important factor when determining the price of delivery. If the freight being delivered is considered dangerous, then the cost of shipping increases dramatically. After that, shipping destination and load tonnage come into play, which can lead to unexpected costs.

Other disadvantages include:

- Idling deliveries in rail yards

- Additional rail cars = increased costs

- Unexpected engine failure

- Negative impact on the environment

These points don’t necessarily make or break the efficacy of rail carriers, rather they’re aspects to be considered when committing to rail freight.

Rail Carriers Changing with the Times

Rail carriers and the use of rail freight won’t be disappearing any time soon. In fact, in the U.S. freight rails carries close to 5 percent of total cargo value in the country. It’s still an important tool for delivery companies and many rail carriers have recognized the time for change is now.

In order to cut costs on deliveries and increase fuel efficiency, rail freights have increased the distance between interchanges. Many rail carriers have addressed rail yard idling time and they’ve also switched to more fuel-efficient locomotives.

But more importantly, many rail carriers have invested in the future, meaning new technologies are on their way in order to improve procedures. Hybrid switch engines and hydrogen powered fuel cell locomotives are two projects under development that could change rail freight as we know it.

Stay tuned for a follow-up blog on these two new developments for rail carriers.

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