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  • Allen Czermak

What Is Drayage vs. Transloading?

Shipping terminologies are usually thrown around and it is important that you understand just exactly what they mean. Business owners should have some basic knowledge in key logistical terms that can help get their goods delivered faster and at a lower cost. With multiple global crises going on simultaneously shippers are charging well north of $30K to deliver a shipping container from overseas. Unfortunately the global supply chain issue seems like a bottomless pit and will continue to drive prices up. That’s why it's important to have some basic knowledge of logistics services such as drayage, intermodal, and transloading.

What Is Drayage?

Prior to drayage services being available, purchasers of goods used to have to retrieve the actual products they bought and bring them to their warehouse. That meant sitting around at the dock or rail yard waiting for your crates to be unloaded from a ship or train. Lots of time was wasted due to delays and technical difficulties of receiving and transporting the goods.

As the stresses began to mount for business owners, dray carts became available to take care of the unloading and transportation of goods until they reached their final destination. Of course a fee was paid to the third party who processed the transfer but it was much better than lost time combined with high levels of frustration. Since then major companies like UPS and FedEx now play the role and have become a major asset to our domestic supply chain.

What Is Transloading?

Transloading is the transfer of goods from one mode of transportation to another. This is often done via a forklift that removes pallets from a standard 40 foot shipping container into a larger 53 foot shipping container. Once the goods are consolidated into the larger container they will be shipped inland via truck or rail. This saves time and money by not having to use more than one chaise or well car to ship multiple shipping containers.

Not always will there be a larger container available to be loaded as the original container is being used. Since that is the case warehousing will be necessary to store the pallets until the new container is ready to be loaded. That means having a reliable logistics partner that will safely store your goods until they are ready to be loaded into a 53 foot container and ship inland.

Does An Extra 13 Feet Of Container Space Make Such a Difference?

Actually it is not just 13 feet, it is cubic feet of extra space to consolidate your goods. The average height of a shipping container is 8.5 feet which means that there is an additional 110.5 feet of space to ship additional pallets in the same load. With shipping being a challenge business owners can use every extra ounce of space to cram in their products to keep down shipping costs.

Try and think of it like a good old family trip. You don’t bring the sedan or SUV but rather you bring the minivan. It is not like the size of a minivan is so much bigger but the extra few feet in the cabin area and extra few inches of truck space plays a significant role in making the trip a bit more successful. The same applies to transloading, it is just that there is significant economic savings and faster delivery when one can combine pallets. The objective is to get your goods inland as fast as possible especially if you live in a big city like Kansas City that is far away from water ports. States like Missouri that are situated in the center of the United States require high level collaboration with intermodal shipping companies to sustain a healthy supply chain.

What Type Of Goods Is Transloading Used For?

The truth is that anything that is palatable can be transferred from one container to another or to stored in a warehousing facility until the day of loading. But it is most common for white goods such as large electrical goods used domestically such as refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, and many other household appliances that are typically in the color white. These items are often stacked and placed on a palate and can be easily moved by a basic forklift. Non-perishable food items that have a long shelf life such as spices, vinegar, peanut butter, and many other commodities can also be transloaded into a warehousing facility until enough palates are ready to fill the container and ship inland.

In order for goods to be easily unloaded and stored it is essential that the items are all palatable and secure. Usually, heavy items such as appliances can be neatly arranged and held together by strong stretch wrap. If a transloader receives a palate that has small loose boxes they won’t be able to handle the load as well and there is a good chance that the items on the palate will get lost. It is not that the logistics team does not care, it is just that they are not equipped to handle such loads that are not packed well. Sometimes it is just the extended length on board a ship and truck that takes a toll on the cargo and causes damage to the items on the palate. That is why it’s important to have a logistics partner that will see that your goods are always moving, avoiding damage and added lay fees. This will get the goods to you faster and at a lower cost.

The Battle For The Heartland (United States)

Though there are many water ports all along the seaboard of the United States there is one coast that receives the bulk of shipping containers and that is the West Coast. It takes anywhere between 15 and 30 days to get across the Pacific to deliver shipping containers from countries like Japan and China. Of course, the pandemic, supply chain issues, and port traffic can lengthen the time it will take for the shipping container to be received.

Since most shipping containers coming from overseas will end up on the West Coast, there is a battle between logistics providers for servicing the Heartland (United States) which include states like Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. These states do not have easy access to water ports that can play host to large container ships that deliver goods from overseas. Therefore they must rely on an efficient intermodal network to get these containers inland from the West Coast. Trains that seem to never end with well cars have 53 foot shipping containers doubled up until they reach a rail terminal within each of these states. Transloading plays an important role in this process, making the most out of the space inside the shipping container to keep shipping costs down. All of this has led to intense competition to be the logistics provider for container deliveries to these states. It has gotten so intense that rail companies in Canada are picking up containers from water ports in Portland and Seattle, and running rail lines to just above North Dakota. Over there they enter the United States and bring these containers all the way to Heartland (United States). Once the containers reach the rail terminal they will be put on a chassis and delivered inland. All are looking to gain the shipping business from these states as they must have a solid logistics system in place due to the lack of major water ports nearby.

How Is Drayage Different From Transloading?

Drayage is the actual service of delivering goods until the final destination point while transloading is the technique which is used to unload goods from one container to another or from one container into a warehousing facility. Both play a very important role in getting your shipping containers fast and at a lower rate. Transloading can play a role all throughout the shipping journey while drayage is limited to the last shipping run until the goods are received by the purchaser. Both can play a role in getting your goods from overseas.

Final Words

Transloading is not just limited to unloading shipping containers from one to another. Building materials such as loose stones and gravel are transloaded from dump trucks onto barges and delivered either up or downstream. This is important for major cities that are surrounded by water that allows building materials to be delivered in bulk via water getting around the city traffic.

With the cost of building supplies on the rise many contractors are making use of the 53 foot containers to ship lumber, plywood, boards, planks, and panels from overseas. This helps keep project costs somewhat reasonable by getting around the suppliers. This means that they have to collaborate with a reliable warehousing facility until all the supplies are gathered and ready to be loaded onto a container and shipped. Once the container is received it will be laid near the construction project and there will be an ample supply of materials.

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