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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 YardRailyard

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.

Rail Transport Arrangements

ContainerizationContainerisation – much like sea freight, many railways can accommodate containerized containerised cargo. There are no differences between the containers used in sea shipping and those use in rail shipping. The process of stuffing and sealing containers may occur at the shippers facility, or may occur at a consolidation point or forwarders facility. The same volume and weight restrictions apply to rail shipping using containerization containerisation as they do to sea shipping.

Loose Shipping – shippers may wish to ship less than full rail car loads using rail, or may not have access to intermodal container shipping through the desired rail line. Cargo can still be shipped using a variety of rail cars. Sending palletized palletised or loose cargo via rail is similar to sending cargo with a third-party trucking company – cargo will be loaded onto the train utilizing utilising pre-made and usually hard sided structures, and will be offloaded on the receiving end. Usually, shippers aren’t even allowed into the rail yard to participate in the loading/offloading of rail cars, and will only see cargo as it’s picked up outside the railyard, or once it’s delivered to their facility. Securing shipping for loose cargo via rail can be done through any freight forwarder or broker, and rail lines may even have direct customer service. 


Infrastructure Limitations - Rail transportation has a far limited scope compared to most other forms of cargo movement. The reality is rail movement needs specialized specialised built out infrastructure – a rail network – that requires maintenance and is easily damaged by weather or conflict. Shippers utilizing utilising rail to move cargo have very few options – the size of railcars is limited by the overall size of the tracks, and freight trains have a fairly limited set of destinations. In many contexts where many aid agencies work and operate, there will likely not be a functioning rail network all together.


Cargo Configuration for Rail Shipping

If not utilizing utilising 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 palletised or loose, however it may be in the best interests of the shipper to palletize palletise and label cargo as much as possible to minimize minimise 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.


Flat Deck – A barge on which the deck stowage is one large flat surface, upon which cargo rests and is secured to. Flat deck surfaces on barges are very exposed - they won't protect cargo from waves or from turbulent water, and items stored on the surface of flat decks can be easy targets for thieves. All cargo transported on the surface must be properly secured and tied down, and valuable items stored in a manner that won't enable easy theft. 

Hopper / Split Hopper – A barge with one large or many smaller compartments that are partially below the edge of the barge. Hoppers can be used to store bulk loose items such as grains, sand or ore. Many hoppers can be covered with tarp or hard metal lids to protect contents, and some can even store additional cargo on top of the hopper compartments. Depending on the cargo, hopper/split barges can be loaded by hand or specialized specialised MHE. 

Tanker Barge - A barge designed to carry liquids or compressed gasses. Tanker barges requires specialized specialised maintenance, and will only be used if the sending and receiving ports have the proper equipment to load and offload. 


In reality, there are only a few locations globally where barges will be effectively used in a humanitarian response operations. There is no standard form of documentation for utilizing utilising barges, and users of barge services will need to supply their own tracking documentation and process their own customs formalities if required to.


There may also be large riverway shipping operations on vessels capable of carrying relatively large volumes of cargo. Utilizing Utilising third-party riverway shipping should be treated the same as utilizing utilising any local third-party transport.