Rail shipping vs. road shipping. Brief comparison.3 min read

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Rail shipping vs. road shipping. Which one should you opt for?

There are many things to consider before deciding which one is the right solution for your needs.  The choice will mainly be affected by the budget, type of cargo, timeframe and the distance between the pick-up and delivery point.

We’ve put together the main differences between road shipping and rail shipping and we divided them by cost, type of cargo, transit time, security and environmental impact.

Cost

Road shipping

Convenient prices that vary depending on the destination and type of cargo to be carried. The prices are generally low on short routes and the shippers can choose between a variety of options: Less than truckload shipping (LTL), full truckload (FTL) and partial truckload (PTL).

Rail shipping

The rates are more convenient than any other type of transportation thanks to the small fuel consumption.

Distance

Road shipping

Road freight is preferable for transports within the same continent. For short distances, it provides shorter transit times than rail shipping. Moreover, road shipping offers the convenience of a door-to-door service.

Rail shipping

Rail shipping is a good solution for cross-continent transportation and preferred for long distance shipping thanks to its capacity of carrying heavy cargo.

Type of cargo

Road shipping

It is a very versatile mode of transport, accommodate a wider range of goods that can be shipped, including the ones that are temperature sensitive. However, one lorry can only transport a definite amount of goods. However, when it comes to their weight and size, there is a certain limitation imposed and they vary from one country to another.

Rail shipping

It is mainly used for shipping natural resources: coal, petroleum, natural gas or agricultural products. Also, it doesn’t impose a limitation on the total load that can be carried.

Transit time

Road shipping

The freight can be delivered faster, based on the delivery schedules.  However, it is exposed to delays due to traffic and weather condition.

Rail shipping

Delivery times are usually longer in comparison with road freight. However, they are also punctual, thanks to the fact that external factors such as weather and traffic, don’t influence the transit times to a great extent.

Security of the transportation

Road shipping

Road freight is by far the most exposed mode of transport to accidents.

However, when it comes to tracking options, road freight provides the means to follow the transit of the cargo.

Rail shipping

Even though accidents are not excluded, rail freight registers a significantly lower number of accidents.

In terms of tracking, rail shipping services are not as developed as the ones for road shipping.

Environmental impact

Road shipping

Road freight impacts both the environment and the society due to the air pollution that it causes, as well as the noise pollution.

Rail shipping

Thanks to the fact that the fuel consumption is much lower, the environmental impact of rail freight is not as prominent as the one of road freight.

Generally, rail freight in Europe has the lowest share of the logistics market. The European Commission has laid down plans of making it more effective and increasing its usage among shippers.

Road freight is still the preferred means of transportation among businesses thanks to its convenient prices and flexibility.

At the same time, both these modes of transport are used in combination – what is known as being the multimodal or intermodal transportation.

Last modified: November 16, 2017

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