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Compared to other forms of cargo transportation, rail transport is quite safe. Rail transportation is capable of high levels of passenger and cargo movement while maintaining energy efficiency, but is often less flexible. Rail transport costs less than air or road transport, making it extremely cost effective for inland movement.

Common Terms in Rail Transport


Any type of pre-made container designed for transportation of goods using rail locomotion. Railcars are unpowered, and require an engine to push or pull them. There are a variety of rail cars designed to accommodate a variety of shipping needs.


Powered vehicle that is operated by a pilot and is used to push or pull railcars over long distances. Engines can be electric, or powered by fossil fuels.

Full Carload

A volume of cargo that is capable of filling an entire rail car.

Less Than Carload

A volume of cargo that is less the volume required to fill an entire railcar.

Rail Yard

A large open area alongside train tracks where trains can be domiciled or repaired. Railyards are also where cargo loading and offloading operations occur.

Heavy Haul

Train cargo that is considered bulk or full cargo, as opposed to passenger rail vehicles or light rail (usually inner city public transport).


The act of switching cars between one train and another.


Inflexibility - Rail is very suitable for the movement of large load sizes over longer distances, but it lacks the versatility and flexibility of motor carriers since it operates on fixed track facilities. Rail can only provide services terminal to terminal, rather than point to point delivery services offered by trucking. Though rail transport offers an effective method of bulk haulage, it can be very slow, especially considering loading, offloading, and overall railyard operations.

Sending Cargo by Rail

Rail Transport Documentation

Rail Waybill / Freight Waybill - Documentation for movement by rail is controlled through the rail waybill. Unlike a BOL, CMR or BOL, the rail waybill is a nonstandard, non fixed-format document. Rail waybills are typically created by and supplied by the rail line, and will contain locally relevant and important information.


Example Rail / Freight Waybill:

Cargo Configuration for Rail Shipping

If not utilizing intermodal shipping containers, shippers generally have very little control over how cargo is loaded, nor are there many special considerations while packaging cargo. Cargo may be shipped palletized or loose, however it may be in the best interests of the shipper to palletize and label cargo as much as possible to minimize loss or theft while in transit. Trains can haul heavy and large cargo, and are really only limited by excessively oversized items, such as oversized construction equipment. Certain routes may be limited by tunnels or underpasses, so shippers should inquire with their forwarders about the overall limitation for shipping using a specific rail line.