Shipping by road and rail: The Comparisons

When deciding which transport solutions are best for your business there are many things to take into consideration. Things that will likely impact your decision the most are budget, the product being shipped, delivery times and the increasingly important, environmental impact. 

Firstly, it is important to outline the differences between rail and road freight services that supply chain logistics companies can provide:

Rail Transport

Rail transport support solutions are a popular method of freight management services used in countries where there are likely to be longer transit times such as China, the US, Russia and Europe. A freight train can carry a wide variety of shipments from vehicles to shipping containers and essential items such as coal and grains. Rail shipping is a great option for moving goods between continents. 

Road Transport

The most common form of freight transport is road transport solutions. Available worldwide road services are favoured for the pallet delivery of day-to-day products such as groceries and retail goods. Road freight logistics providers are commonly used to arrange palletised freight deliveries from distribution centres and shorter distances within the same country or continent. 

Now let’s look at the comparisons of rail and road freight logistics in key areas that should help you decide which freight forwarding services are best for you and shipping your product.



Moving goods by rail is immediately cheaper due to the lower amount of fuel consumption. A typical train may haul 3,000 tons of freight over 500 miles, for example, and consume 3,049 gallons of fuel. This then calculates to 492 ton-miles per gallon compared to 134 ton-miles per gallon for a freight truck. 


There are a variety of options when considering road freight logistics which allow for keeping costs down, such as Less than Truckload (LTL) or Full Truckload (FTL) which you can find out more about here.
Rates are generally lower on shorter routes which makes road freight services cheaper, dependent on the destination and type of goods being shipped.

Cargo Type:


This type of transport support solution is typically used to move natural resources such as coal, petroleum or agricultural products. There are fewer restrictions on the size of the load being transported.


Road freight services are a very versatile mode of transportation for a wide range of shipments, including temperature-controlled supply chain management. However, there is of course a restriction on the size and weight of the load that can be carried and therefore road freight logistics are often used for smaller shipments or day to day movement of goods over a shorter distance. 

Delivery Times:


This method is generally used for goods and shipments that are not so time-sensitive as the delivery and transit times are much longer. However, there are not many external factors that will affect routes, meaning delays are rare and times more reliable. 

Shipping by rail is a good option for moving goods across continents and longer distances, it is a preferred method for this type of shipment due to the larger capacities rail is also able to carry at one time. 


Road freight services are generally faster due to road networks and scheduling, however, it is also subject to delays from traffic and weather conditions. 

Road freight is quick for daily, national shipments and is considered the preferred option when moving goods within the same continent and over a shorter distance. For this reason, road freight services are a great option for shorter delivery times and for the convenience of door-to-door pallet delivery.

Environmental Impact:


As mentioned above, rail freight services provide a higher ton-mile ratio than road freight, meaning it will deliver more goods per mile whilst consuming less fuel. With larger capacities comes fewer scheduled shipments, meaning rail has a much lower environmental impact. 


With smaller and more frequent deliveries, road freight services and shipments have a higher environmental impact. Road freight contributes to air pollution and noise pollution, however, the increase in electric vehicles should bring a hopeful solution to this impact in future years. 

In general rail transport solutions have the lowest share of the warehousing and logistics market, with road freight being the number one preferred means of shipping due to easy access to networks and distribution centres. 

Both types of rail and road freight services can be used together in multimodal integrated freight management. This provides the option to combine rail and road freight logistics whilst lowering price, environmental impact and increasing efficiency. 

To find out more about rail and road freight services or about combining the two integrated freight management options, contact Xpediator, a leading international freight forwarding and courier company for the best transport support solutions for your business needs.

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