What is Transloading?

 In Facilities and Services, The Port of Montana

Transloading is the process of transferring goods from one mode of transportation to another while being shipped to their final destination. Think international shipments: typically, imported goods are sent overseas (either by air or vessel) as an inbound shipment, but only reach their inland destination after a trip by road or rail. The transfer of goods from the first mode of transportation to the next is transloading, which requires a whole additional logistical planning and technological resources to run smoothly.

As globalization becomes a reality and technology puts countries that much closer to each other, transloading has become a standard feature of the supply chain. In fact, Transport Topics reported in 2017 that transporting has grown at double the rate of US imports, and experts expect continued growth as more and more companies recognize the positive effect transloading has on the entire supply chain.

“Transloading is a more effective use of the supply chain for the companies that make up the lion’s share of imports these days,” Robert Leachman, professor of industrial engineering and operations research at the University of California-Berkeley, told Transport Topics in 2017.

In addition to its effects on the supply chain, transloading boasts several other benefits for companies that require physical product distribution.

Benefits of Transloading

  1. Transloading is a method of mitigating transportation costs. Certain modes of transportation, like rail or vessel, are oftentimes extremely cost-effective over long distances. By utilizing a combination of transportation modes, companies can consolidate loads (one barge vs. several trucks, for example) and cut down on total costs by comparing the prices of various shipping methods.
  2. Transloading improves flexibility during distribution. With transloading, there are several points of transfer where the company can alter the course of the shipment if necessary, making distribution faster and more adaptable to change. Especially for long-term shipment, flexibility can be a huge advantage. Plus, when a company relies solely on one mode of transportation to get their product from Point A to Point B (without transloading), they assume more risk — what happens when something technological goes wrong?
  3. Transloading extends a company’s reach. Shippers who utilize several different modes of transportation (each boasting its own network of destinations) have access to a wider net of destinations domestically and internationally. For example, a rural area may only be accessible by road — a company that transloads their product from train to truck may be more successful in that rural community than companies that only ship by rail. Alternatively, a company only utilizing rail, for example, is thus landlocked and unable to expand business internationally.
  4. Transloading storage facilities allow shippers to strategically consolidate and position product near its end destination or alternative transportation port, improving the speed and efficiency of delivery.

Transloading is different than crossdocking, a strategy for quickly transferring goods from the inbound carrier directly to the outbound carrier without storage. Picture the speedy transfer (typically within 24 hours) of a shipment from one truck to another truck. Unlike transloading, crossdocking can mean transferring goods from a carrier in one mode of transportation to a carrier in the same mode of transportation.

The Port of Montana

The sign for the entrance to the Port of Montana. Made of metal sitting in front of a green landscape and cloudy sky.

Located in the Montana Connections Business Development Park, the Port of Montana is Butte’s very own transloading facility. The location is advantageous on a macro level; the business park sits on the intersection of two major highways — I-90 and I-15 — as well as two Class I railroads, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroads. Butte is the sole stop in Montana on the Union Pacific, the second largest freight-hauling railroad in the United States.

In addition to an optimal location, the Port of Montana offers a variety of transloading and storage services, intended to minimize the risk of handling damage to goods. The Port of Montana uses the reliable and high-capacity technology and equipment, including a Piggy Packer lift (up to 86,000 pounds) and a conveyor belt, to transfer goods from rail to truck and back again. In terms of storage, the Port of Montana offers 124,000 square feet of indoor storage and an estimated 250-railcar storage capacity, as well as five docking areas and two certified truck scales to make sure product leaves the center successfully.

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Delta Air Lines flight from Butte, MT, to Salt Lake City, UT prepares for takeoff at Bert Mooney Airport.