The Indsutry of Intermodal Trucking Jobs

by Jake Tully - Published: 7/27/2017
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In today's landscape of trucking, the term “intermodal” has been more visible than ever, leaving some drivers curious as to how this chain of delivery impacts their particular industry.

There is nothing necessarily new about multiple-carrier transportation as a whole, though the individual roles that different segments of transportation play within the intermodal logistics chain it are constantly evolving.

In the pursuit of delivering freight across the globe, the transportation industry as a whole has developed a great deal of ways to make the shipping process one that is seamless and efficient. The trucking industry, in particular, continues to work alongside rail and ship transport in order to help get consumers what they need – and many consider trucks to be the most integral component of intermodal transportation.

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Defining Intermodal Transportation

In its most simple terms, intermodal transportation is a process that ships an standardized container using multiple modes of transportation without the freight being handled when it changes from one mode of transport to another. These modes of transport involve rail, ships and trucks, but not necessarily all three in the same delivery process.

This type of shipping is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it dates back to the 1700s when rudimentary intermodal containers were used in canals and then placed upon horse-drawn carriages (i.e. the semi trucks and trucking job positions of the past.) When rail entered the equation in the 1800s, using a combination of all three methods of transportation together seemed to work naturally.

Today, we typically define this type of transportation as a means to solve a more complex end for freight. Cargo that is moved through this method is not necessarily a specialty type of freight or anything that is burdensome to a carrier, rather, it is a way in which needs across the world can be met by a cooperation between different modes of transport.

A Brief History of Intermodal Trucking

As two major sectors of transportation (rail and ships) combined forces, shippers saw a way to make cross-country or intercontinental shipping possible, albeit one that was a lengthy process by today’s standards.

Many railroad-friendly territories such as Virginia adopted multiple-form transport early on, soon spreading to other large adopted territories surrounding Texas. By the early 1900s, the industry has established what were standardized covered containers, which soon became the well-known colored containers that we see today.

The 1960’s saw the rise and popularity of commercial trucks in what was a bimodal process, soon disrupting the relative monopoly that rail had gained within the logistical supply chain. As trucks gained notoriety in performing a similar job to rail, so did the class of the intermodal truck driving job. In a short period of time, truckers became relied upon just as much as rail operators or those who controlled freight by sea.

Today, intermodal driving positions are well-respected occupations that require experienced drivers. Though the openings for these opportunities are not incredibly bountiful as compared to local runs or dedicated routes, there are still many great openings for drivers interested in this line of work.

What Responsibilities Do Intermodal Truckers Have?

One of the main responsibilities that truckers who work in the intermodal industry see is the ability to effectively communicate and operate with the other links in the logistics chain. As opposed to being somewhat of an autonomous vehicle on the road when a driver works with a standard trucking company, drivers with these specialized positions must be aware of their role as well as highly aware of the roles that others play.

Some of the main responsibilities of drivers are as follows:

- Communication Skills: An intermodal trucker job will require an individual to possess excellent skills in communication. These careers will require a driver to speak to more than just their manager or dispatch, however. These jobs will require drivers to speak to professionals in adjacent industries, understanding the needs and wants of other forms of transportation.

- Knowledge of Other Transport: Intermodal drivers do not need to need to be experts in the other modes of transportation they may be working alongside, but it may help a driver if they possess some practical knowledge about how the other forms of transportation work. A cursory background in other logistical fields will help create an informed driver.

- Timeliness: It is incredibly crucial for drivers to display a diligence on the road that accounts for all parties involved. Operating a vehicle within a larger supply chain implicates several different entities, not just the truck itself.

Of course, safety for both the cargo and the driver is paramount to the success of a large-scale supply chain, so one must be both expedient and secure in their transportation habits.

Why Do Drivers Choose Intermodal Positions?

Intermodal trucking is not like any kind of commercial trucking. It requires a great deal of drive from the person in behind the wheel as well as a commitment to seeing through one’s role so that others may be fulfilled.

Due to the nature of the job, many drivers are enticed by the feeling of being part of a greater delivery system within driving. Rather than carrying out short hauls or maintaining over the road runs, logistically-oriented drivers have the ability to work with clients from all over the world, and can see the immediate results of their labors.

Trucking is commonly known as the “connection” between the two anchors of shipment by rail and shipment by sea. Trucks provide a sense of efficiency that rail and ships cannot due to constraints in overall infrastructure. California has found itself a large hub for drivers in this class, delivering containers to the various ports throughout the state.

These positions also tend to be competitive within the field of other more standard trucking jobs as well. Typically, intermodal drivers see an average annual salary of $52,000 a year – a figure generated by assuming that drivers take only the average amount of opportunities offered towards them.

Major trucking companies in the industry such as Schneider and J.B. Hunt also offer these positions, making the visibility for these occupations perhaps much greater than other niche trucking positions.

Potential Downsides of Intermodal Truck Driving

No trucking position is perfect, and intermodal driving is truly only a fit for certain type of person on the road.

One of risks involved with this class of trucking may be some inconsistency that comes with the territory of these specialized positions. While the amount of shipments within the country may be great, there is no guarantee that the runs available will be as frequent as a traditional dedicated run. This may leave drivers feeling as though their occupation is uneven and it may be difficult to budget. Florida drivers may be presented with openings to help with deliveries internationally, but the lion’s share of routes in the state may be over the road, for example.

While no driver is in insignificant in the eyes of the client or American commerce, intermodal drivers are also relied upon more heavily than others simply because they must interact with other divisions of freight delivery that are often bound by land or time. Some drivers find the incredible amount of reliance upon them to be burdensome and stressful.

This type of trucking is anything but casual and requires some of the most dedicated focus and assiduity found within the entirety of the industry. Much like a HAZMAT or TANKER position, these jobs are best suited for the most experienced and thorough truckers.

Future of Intermodal Transportation

As the populations grows domestically and internationally, the need for reliable freight delivery is in more demand than ever. It seems that in the United States there is not a great deal of talk surrounding plans to increase the number of commercial railways or sea-based fleets, therefore an increase in trucks and qualified operators is incredibly likely.

An upward trajectory for the amount of freight produced globally has been projected by several major and reputable sources, and if an increase in local demand for common goods across the board is any indication, it seems that these predictions may be true.

With this is mind, multiple channel transportation will likely not slow down, seeing more international opportunities. As the commercial transportation industry becomes more interconnected within the country and within the world, it is very possible that more opportunities become visible to drivers as well.

In short, trucking jobs are reported as on the rise in all sectors and divisions of professional driving. It is likely that intermodal positions will also see a share of growth, as will other components of the entire process.

Drivers, however, will continue to play an increasingly important role in connecting elements within the process. For every barge, ship, railway or plane that is ready to take on the next leg of the journey, a truck is almost always required in order to conveniently move the process along.

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