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Intermodal Trucking

In the search for truck driving jobs, you’ll likely come across a variety of positions and types of trucking, such as less-than-truckload (LTL), dry-van, and OTR. Some trucking companies also offer intermodal jobs, which may be the perfect fit for your career goals and driving experience.

Learn all about intermodal trucking, including the pros and cons of the job, how much intermodal drivers can earn, and more.

What Is Intermodal Trucking?

Intermodal trucking is the movement of freight on trucks as part of a voyage that requires more than one mode of transportation.

At its core, logistics involves moving freight from one place to another using four main transport methods—over-the-road (OTR), by rail, by sea, or by air. Some shipments may only require one type of transport to reach their final destination, but others might need to use several to get there safely and efficiently. Shipments that combine two or more transportation methods are known as intermodal shipments.

Intermodal trucking refers to the driving portion of the haul and is also sometimes also known as “drayage.” Intermodal truck drivers usually handle the first and last portions of the journey—either moving freight from its origin point to the relevant dock, airport, or rail yard, or finishing the journey at the other end, picking up the cargo at a dock, airport, or rail yard and delivering it to its final destination.

Freight is often transported in shipping containers, which keep it secure and safe from the elements. Globally, over 90% of intermodal shipping containers are built to a standard size of 8′ wide and either 20′ or 40′ in length, though some carriers work with longer 53′ containers—the same size used in regular OTR dry-van haulage.

Pros and Cons of Intermodal Truck Driving Jobs

As with any truck driving, working with intermodal freight has its advantages and disadvantages.

Pros of Intermodal Trucking

  • More home time: Intermodal drivers often have less distance to cover than other truckers and can return home regularly, sometimes even every day for local drivers.
  • Familiar routes: Intermodal drivers get to know familiar routes and faces by frequently visiting the same stops.
  • Consistent schedule and more flexibility: Intermodal usually offers a consistent, reliable schedule, making it easier to balance a healthy home and work life. And the shorter journey times of intermodal can be an added bonus, providing more flexibility.
  • Less physical: Intermodal work is less physical than some other truck driving roles, with most truckers dealing with no-touch, drop-and-hook freight.

Cons of Intermodal Trucking

  • Delays: Due to the complexities involved in moving freight from one type of transport to another, the job can involve a lot of waiting around, delays, and paperwork.
  • Inconsistency: The availability of intermodal jobs depends on the demand for the items being shipped globally. For example, you may be very busy transporting grain exports during a high-demand time, but could see those jobs drop off when that demand wanes.
  • Less pay: While it generally provides good wages, intermodal trucking doesn’t usually pay as much as OTR or linehaul trucking.
  • Potential equipment damage: The equipment used in intermodal trucking can be easily damaged by the constant loading and unloading. One intermodal driver says, “Due to the hostile nature of railroading… I suggest performing a very careful and thorough inspection of the chassis/container (especially the chassis twist-locks) or trailer because they are subjected to a much higher degree of abuse.”

Requirements for Intermodal Truck Driving

Because intermodal trucking involves hauling very large, heavy shipping containers, drivers must have a Class A CDL. In addition, hazmat, tanker, and doubles/triples CDL endorsements are helpful if you want consistent access to as many intermodal driving opportunities as possible.

Intermodal Truck Driver Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, the average annual salary across all types of heavy truck driving in the U.S. was $48,710. However, your earning potential will vary depending on the type of truck, the mileage covered, and your commercial driving experience. Total earnings typically comprise mileage pay, load pay, and performance pay. There may also be bonuses for stoppages, delays, and stay-overs.

Typically, intermodal drivers earn less than their long-haul colleagues, with a national average of $55,763 per year versus over $100,000 for many OTR driver salaries. However, top intermodal truck drivers can earn salaries competitive with OTR driving. For example, high earners in Schneider’s intermodal division may earn up to $90,000 per year. When applying for work with an intermodal company, check their pay structure to learn more about your future earning potential.

Top Intermodal Trucking Companies

If you’re interested in working as an intermodal truck driver, you may be able to find employment with an intermodal trucking company, such as:

  • J.B. Hunt: With over 100,000 containers and 83,000 chassis, J.B. Hunt has the largest company-owned intermodal fleet in North America. Drivers can choose between local or regional routes, and most return home daily or weekly.
  • Hub Group: With over 50 years in business, Hub Group runs an extensive coast-to-coast drayage network with nearly 4,000 drivers in 29 terminals and has longstanding relationships with Class-I railroads.
  • XPO Logistics: Based in Greenwich, Connecticut, XPO Logistics owns a vast freight portfolio covering LTL, freight brokerage, intermodal, and global forwarding services. You can find out more about being an XPO intermodal driver in this video.
  • Schneider: As one of the country’s leading freight firms, Schneider National provides a wide range of logistical services, with over 11,000 drivers, 10,000 trucks, and 33,000 trailers on the road.

Some carriers offer a variety of intermodal driving jobs, including local, regional, and tanker options.

Best Cities for Intermodal Jobs

Intermodal jobs are typically concentrated around specific centers with links to air, rail, and sea transportation, though they are available nationwide. You can often find intermodal truck driving jobs advertised in hub locations such as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New Jersey, and Memphis.