Intermodal: advantages / disadvantages?

Discussion in 'Intermodal Trucking Forum' started by Don Key Hotey, Dec 7, 2021.

  1. Don Key Hotey

    Don Key Hotey Bobtail Member

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    I am still in the research phase of deciding what type of trucking career to pursue. Intermodal is on my radar if only because I live in an area that sends lots of containers down the I-90 to the Port of Seattle.

    I know nothing about this type of trucking and was hoping some drivers would be interested in sharing their thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages, etc.

    Thanks.
     
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  3. lual

    lual Light Load Member

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    The "big guns" in the intermodal world here stateside are JB Hunt, Schneider...and Swift.

    And pretty much in that order, as far as volume.

    Based on my experience in the intermodal world, I can't recommend that you start there as a total beginner.

    Get some experience elsewhere, first. Either dry van OTR/regional, or <<<gulp>>> reefer.

    Can't truly recommend reefer/temp-controlled for a complete beginner, either. Too much other BS besides just driving the truck.

    What can make intermodal a total nightmare is the entry/exit process (or the lack thereof) for the railyard(s) and/or shipyard(s) that you service.

    If said yard has its act together--you can do reasonably well. If said yard has chronic problems with their entry/exit systems, you'll go crazy wasting too much of your DOT time just getting your load(s) in and out.

    The same can be said for dispatch. If dispatch has never driven a truck--they will program your loads like you're delivering pizzas in a TransAm.

    Combine the above two issues--and then you can see why I left intermodal.

    Now, I do hazmat tanker duty. Home daily. More money. Much less hassle.


    --Lual
     
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  4. Don Key Hotey

    Don Key Hotey Bobtail Member

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    Thanks, lual. This is very helpful. Love the pizza delivery in a Trans Am comparison. I can imagine that the negatives you describe are only the tip of the iceberg these days with the port situation being what it is.
     
  5. lual

    lual Light Load Member

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    Don't let what I said above scare you away from intermodal necessarily.

    It can be a good gig for you--IF the conditions are right.

    If you live near a railyard or shipyard, and they have their game on, you could have something whereas you build up some experience, you are HOME DAILY.

    Intermodal can be good experience, and good money. While the OTR people are running up and down the interstate, you are delivering loads more locally (in most cases). Thus--you are spending FAR MORE TIME BACKING UP. This is terrific practice for a newer driver, as opposed to spending that time being an interstate muncher. The intermodal pay system is set up for more local runs, as opposed to mainly just racking up miles.

    The main takeaway here is--do your homework. Talk with other drivers who are already working in the intermodal area(s) of interest. Find out if the railyards/shipyards in question have reasonable in/out times, most of the time. Also--find out if their cranes (if they have them--most do) for offloading containers use time efficiently (or not). If not--why not?

    You can also ask these drivers about their dispatch. Where I was at, dispatch was great--at first. Then dispatch later got moved away from the area being worked, and the whole new dispatch batch hatch were intermodal inexperienced, and thus pretty much clueless.

    These same drivers can also enlighten you on whether the terminal you'd be working is basically a good place to hang your hat (or not). Truck terminals are like little "kingdoms". If the management in said "kingdom" basically sucks--then what's the point, anyway? On the other hand--If management there is good, and treats the troops generally good, life otherwise should also be good.

    If you get the right answers to the above, that opens the door for you to sign up as a rookie with somebody like Swift, or Schneider--and transfer into their intermodal division--after you get at least 6-8 months experience with them elsewhere, first.

    Hope all this helps.

    --Lual
     
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  6. Don Key Hotey

    Don Key Hotey Bobtail Member

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    You make various good points. I live within walking distance of two companies that ship containers. It does sound nice to walk to work, get home every night, and make decent money. As you suggest, I will make it a point to try to talk to some the folks at these local shippers and hopefully some drivers. Thanks!
     
  7. lual

    lual Light Load Member

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    Yes....

    before you invest--investigate.

    People respect what you inspect--NOT what you expect.

    --Lual
     
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  8. striker

    striker Road Train Member

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    I've hauled cans for 24 yrs, there are two different kinds of intermodal hauling, Port work and railyards, if you're in an area where you have both to contend with, it can be a nightmare as things can change on a daily basis. If you're only dealing with one entity, rails or ports, it's much easier. We used to hit the ports a few times a year, but have pretty much stopped since 2008, we only do rail work. The railroads are every bit as screwed up as the ports, but in different ways.

    Is there money to be made, depends on the company and how they pay. The problem with companies like Swift, Schneider, JB, you will only deal with big box customers or dedicated customers, you'll be paid mediocre, and you'll be nannied to death (driver facing cameras, cameras, slow trucks, etc.). But, one thing to keep in mind, most intermodal companies do not hire drivers with no exp., or straight out of school, they want you to have some skills, depending on their or their insurance company, may want 3 yrs exp.

    Most intermodal companies don't do only local work, typically intermodal is regional work, as most carriers will also have sleepers for running longer distances, I'm based in Denver and regularly see container haulers from L.A., Chicago, Houston, Dallas, K.C. bringing loads here or picking up loads and taking them back, it all depends on what's needed.
     
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  9. Don Key Hotey

    Don Key Hotey Bobtail Member

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    Thanks, Striker, for sharing your insights. It's baffling that the railyards and ports can still be as dysfunctional as drivers say they are in light of how vital they are to the economy.
     
  10. wis bang

    wis bang Road Train Member

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    Striker said a lot.

    My prior company now has 12 locations with each having a mix of local and OTR operations all depending on the 'local' port or railhead(s) but also with the ability [for some ship lines] do terminate at the nearest destination terminal. They paid OTR 20% less returning empty but the OTR guys were able to get under another loaded container and keep trucking at the 'loaded' rate.

    On the other hand

    My current company is the king of local with most customers within 10 miles of the yard. Our guys depend on doing multiple trips, at least 2 or 3 a day and when the ILA, Sun and Moon align 4 a day often doing over 250 loads a day with an average of 75 port drivers; that is 3.5 moves per unit so a bunch of them get 4 on those days. My owner operators average only 39,000 to 42,000 miles a year and probably spend more on the NJ Turnpike than on the fuel island and gross 6 figures...but each one thoroughly knows the NY/NJ marine terminals and the north Jersey railheads too.
     
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  11. striker

    striker Road Train Member

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    In my case, we're permitted for 48 states, but only really run Co, Wyo., Ne., SD., MT., NM., KS., UT., ID, occasionally we'll go to western Ok., or NW Texas, unless someone is paying really well, we try to limit our runs to a max of 3 days round trip. 99% of our work is regional, about 350 miles one way.

    Like regular OTR, some intermodal companies pay hourly for local and per mile for long distance, the better companies pay hourly for local and percentage for long distance, that's where you can make decent money. On long distance runs (beyond 100 air miles), my lowest paying run averages $26/hr, on average my percentage loads come out to about $40/hr,. Money can also depend on the company, on local loads, we charge detention, but I don't see any of it, because I'm on hourly pay, but on long distance loads, when we charge detention, I get a percentage of that too. Sometimes money can also depend on how aggressive the company is about collecting on these charges, I once had a customer turn a 4 hr live load into a 11 hr live load, on a Friday, in Albuquerque when it was 100 deg., I had arrived at the customer at 8 am, left at 7:30 pm, I didn't sleep at all that day because it was so hot and they wouldn't let me idle or drop and leave. When I left, I really wanted a shower, and a nap, but I had a 7 am cutoff for a train to meet. My company charged the broker almost double for the load as a result, which for the week almost doubled my pay.

    You have to understand that the railroads are essentially a part of the gov't, without being a part of the gov't, they make their own rules, they wield incredible influence and they do what they want. The FRA rules, while written by the gov't, were written by the railroads, the FRA inspectors follow the rules to inspect things, wink wink, but they know. Here's an example, 25/30 years ago, Colorado State Patrol and other agencies used to setup outside the railyards here in Denver and do level 1's on trucks leaving, the problem, the there were so many issues that blew back on the railroad for not maintaining chassis and piggybacks, they complained, and CSP stopped. Now, you might say this is nonsense, but 15 yrs back, I wrote a detailed letter to CSP motor carrier and my local legislator about how bad the equipment was and safety violations we were dealing with, that they wouldn't fix. CSP responded that they would like to do greater enforcement on the trucks leaving the railyards, but were prohibited by internal policy (wink wink) from doing concentrated enforcement near the railyards. In other words, someone(s) complained loudly and to the correct people, and policies were written.

    Here's a little trivia about railroads that 90% of lawyers don't realize. If a train goes by your property and starts a brush fire that destroys everything you own, unless court ordered, the railroad is only liable to pay you $.25 cents on the dollar, even in court, they are typically limited to a max of $.75 cents on the dollar. Now, if a train derails and destroys everything, then they are liable for everything, unless they find someone else responsible, then they will simply walk away. Now, if I drive by with an unsafe truck and start a brush fire, my insurance is going to start off the negotiation at $.70 cents on the dollar.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2021
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