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What is freight shipping?

Freight shipping is the process of moving goods from one location to another via air, land or sea transport. A foundational aspect of the global economy, it can be used to deliver anything from high-volume raw materials, oversized objects or fine art. This article covers the basics of freight shipping, how it works and what it can be used for. 

How does freight shipping work?

It can work in a variety of ways. Freight, or cargo, is carried using one or more modes of transportation. Freight shipments that require multiple modes of transportation are called intermodal shipments. 

If you know you want to ship oversized freight via railway because of its low cost, you’ll most likely end up using intermodal shipping. A load is containerized and set on a truck, which goes on an intermodal ramp at a rail yard. Next, the container is loaded onto a flat car on a freight train. The train travels to a core railyard located near the final destination, where the process works in reverse and the container is loaded onto another truck or ocean carrier. 

Because of the rising cost of fuel, rail transport can be more cost-effective, but other modes of freight shipping are faster. Commercial airlines receive up to 10% of their revenue from leasing space to freight services, with the U.S. Postal Service using around 15,000 flights daily. Each type comes with its own set of rules, regulations, benefits and disadvantages, so choosing the right one for your load is important. Standard freight shipping, commonly known as ground shipping, was the most popular mode of shipping well into the nineteenth century until steamships were invented.

What is freight?

Freight refers to goods, commodities or items in bulk that are transported via air, road, rail or waterway. The mode of transportation freight requires depends on what needs to be hauled. There are different needs, for instance, for loads that are oversized, part of a fulfillment process, and time- or temperature-sensitive. 

What can be shipped via freight?

When moving bulky, oversized or overweight items, freight shipping is the way to go. Items such as furniture, construction equipment, machinery, electronics, bicycles, musical instruments and other bulky goods are transported via freight. Some companies offer dedicated services like refrigerated transport (reefer trucks) and cargo shipping for items that need to be handled in a specific way to prevent damage.

How much does freight shipping cost?

The cost of freight shipping varies depending on the mode of transportation, distance traveled and delivery time. Overhead costs, such as fuel and labor, affect prices. Shipping on land generally costs less than air, but the price varies based on international fuel price fluctuations. Most reputable freight companies have cost estimation tools on their websites to provide customers with a ballpark idea of how much they’ll pay. 

When can I use freight shipping?

Freight shipping is recommended for large, irregular or high-volume items. It can also be a good option when shipping items over a long distance, including to another state, country or continent.

How long does freight shipping take?

The time it takes something to be shipped via freight depends on the shipping mode, distance and travel conditions. Freight shipping companies provide options that differ in speed and generally provide real-time tracking information. 

Freight shipping example

A heavy equipment company in Missouri is selling several industrial products for a construction company located in Florida. Since transporting heavy construction equipment across the country can be expensive and bulky, the company decides to use freight shipping to transport the equipment to the construction site in Florida. The cost to ship the equipment via freight is $6,000 for the equipment plus an additional $300 for fuel and labor. The total estimated time to complete the shipment is four days. The company uses a private company because it is able to get a more accurate estimate of costs and delivery times.

Things to consider with freight shipping

When shipping products by freight, you need to consider things like the overall cost, speed, proportions and weight of the products.

Time for transport 

Compared to standard shipping, freight shipping can take longer based on the mode of transportation and the need to stop at intermediary facilities. Shipping times vary depending on the route taken as well as factors like weather and traffic conditions.

High-quality carriers

Since freight shipments tend to weigh more than consumer shipments, it’s important to work with reputable carriers capable of handling your freight correctly. The right carrier will have the correct truck for your specific shipping needs, including reefers and flatbeds.

Shipping costs

Freight shipping costs depend on where your shipment is going, its weight and dimensions, and transport mode. For larger items, fuel and labor costs should also be factored in. 

Freight shipping modes

A shipper chooses among the following modes when shipping via freight.

  • Full truckload (FTL) shipments refer to loads that require the full capacity of a truck or multiple trucks. When shipping FTL shipments, it is important to specify how many pallets are needed per tractor-trailer. 
  • Less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments refer to ones that aren’t large enough to take up an entire trailer. They’re typically combined with palletized cargo from other shippers to take up the remaining trailer space. 
  • Partial truckload (PTL) has no required freight class and doesn’t require the full space of a truck. These shipments can commonly be irregularly sized things like equipment. Because partial load shipments are often composed of specialty equipment, their trucks typically make fewer stops than those carrying LTL freight.
  • Expedited freight refers to shipments that are of higher priority than others. Shipping via expedited freight comes with additional fees, though this method may still be less expensive than air freight.
  • Intermodal shipments are those sent by a combination of two or more transportation modes. They may travel by air, land or sea.

What affects freight shipping rates?

Freight shipping rates depend on a variety of factors, like distance, weight and speed. The total cost depends on the shipping destination, intended delivery date, and the cargo’s size and weight.

  • Origin and destination: The destination of the shipment has a lot to do with the cost of shipping. The farther away the destination is from the origin of the cargo, the more it will cost to transport the shipment. 
  • Shipping method: The nature of the shipping method causes the rates to vary. 
  • Size and weight: The greater the weight and the size of the cargo, the greater the cost. The increase is due mainly to additional fuel expenses.
  • Special handling: If you have unique shipping needs, for instance if your cargo’s perishable, fragile or hazardous, it’ll be categorized as requiring special handling. This also will affect the total rate of shipping the cargo.

Benefits of freight shipping

Freight shipping can help a company save on costs in many ways. It offers a cost-effective, flexible transportation alternative for large or bulky items. Companies also save on labor costs by using third-party shippers that can quickly and safely transport goods.

Freight vs. standard shipping

In contrast to standard shipping, freight shipping entails transport modes that can accommodate large or bulk cargo.

Get on the freight train

Choosing to use freight shipping instead of traditional shipping can save you money and help ensure that your goods are transported safely. Whether you’re moving goods across the country or between warehouses, freight shipping may be the best fit for your needs.


What are examples of freight?

Freight can be any cargo that a freight shipper transports, which can include everything from products a company needs to be transported to stores, art being shipped to museums or your living room moving to your new home.

What is meant by freight shipping?

Freight shipping is the process of transferring packages and parcels from one location to another, usually by truck, train, ship, or plane.

What are 2 types of freight?

FTL and intermodal are two of the many types of freight.

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