Rail vs Truck Shipping Costs: How Supply Chain Optimization Can Help You Choose the Right Mode of Transportation

The global supply chain has become increasingly complex and costly over the years. It is important for businesses to make cost-effective decisions about shipping goods and managing their supply chain.
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Supply chain optimization is essential for businesses that want to choose the most cost-effective and efficient mode of transportation. By analyzing shipping costs, delivery times, and other variables, companies can identify the best transportation option for each shipment. Supply chain optimization can also help to identify inefficiencies in transportation routes, reduce waste, and enhance productivity, leading to improved profitability and customer satisfaction. Ultimately, by leveraging supply chain optimization techniques, businesses can make informed decisions about transportation, optimize their supply chains, and enhance their overall operations.

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Shipping by truck and rail

Shipping by truck and rail are two common modes of transportation for freight, each with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Shipping by truck is ideal for short to medium-distance shipments and offers speed, flexibility, accessibility, and a personalized service. However, it has limited capacity, is affected by traffic and weather conditions, has higher fuel costs, and has a greater environmental impact compared to other modes of transportation. On the other hand, shipping by rail is more cost-effective for long-distance shipments, offers a larger carrying capacity, emits fewer greenhouse gases, but has limited accessibility and longer transit times. When deciding which mode of transportation to use, it is important to consider the specific needs of the shipment and the delivery location.



Supply chain optimization  in Trucking and rail transport are common freight options, each with pros and cons. Trucks are speedy and flexible but have limited capacity, while trains are cost-effective with higher capacity but less accessible. Choose based on shipment needs and location.

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Shipping by truck

Shipping by truck is a common mode of transportation for freight, especially for short to medium-distance shipments. It involves using trucks to move goods from one location to another, either within a country or internationally. Trucks can be used for a variety of goods, including consumer products, raw materials, perishable goods, and hazardous materials.

Advantages of Shipping by Truck:


  1. Speed and Flexibility: Shipping by truck is faster than other modes of transportation like shipping by sea or rail, making it ideal for time-sensitive shipments. Trucks can also offer greater flexibility in terms of delivery schedules as they can pick up and drop off shipments at any time.
  2. Accessibility: Trucks are able to deliver goods to almost any location, including those in remote or rural areas. They can also access more places than other modes of transportation like trains, which are limited to specific routes.
  3. Cost-Effective: Shipping by truck is often more cost-effective for shorter distances or when shipping smaller quantities of goods. This is because it does not require the same infrastructure or handling fees as other modes of transportation.
  4. Lower Risk of Damage: Shipping by truck is usually done in smaller quantities than other modes of transportation like shipping by sea, which means that there is a lower risk of damage to goods during transit.
  5. More Personalized Service: Shipping by truck allows for a more personalized service, as drivers can communicate directly with customers and adjust delivery schedules to accommodate their needs.


Disadvantages of Shipping by Truck:


  1. Limited Capacity: Trucks have a limited carrying capacity compared to other modes of transportation like ships or trains. This means that larger shipments may require multiple trucks, which can be costly.
  2. Traffic and Weather Conditions: Traffic congestion and poor weather conditions can delay deliveries and increase transportation costs.
  3. Higher Fuel Costs: Fuel costs can be significant for trucking companies, and rising fuel prices can affect shipping rates.
  4. Environmental Impact: Shipping by truck has a greater environmental impact than other modes of transportation like shipping by sea or rail. Trucks emit more carbon dioxide per ton of freight moved than ships or trains, contributing to air pollution and climate change.


Shipping by rail

Shipping by rail is a mode of transportation for freight that involves the use of trains to move goods from one location to another. It is often used for long-distance shipments of bulk commodities such as coal, grain, and chemicals. Rail transport can also be used for shipping intermodal containers and trailers, which are loaded onto flatcars and transported by train.


Advantages of Shipping by Rail:


  1. Lower Costs: Shipping by rail is often more cost-effective than other modes of transportation like shipping by truck or plane, particularly for long distances or large quantities of goods.
  2. Reduced Carbon Footprint: Rail transport is more fuel-efficient than trucks and planes, emitting fewer greenhouse gases per ton of freight moved. This makes it an environmentally-friendly option for shipping goods.
  3. Large Carrying Capacity: Railcars have a large carrying capacity, which allows for the efficient transport of large quantities of goods. This is particularly useful for bulk commodities like coal or grain.
  4. Safe and Secure: Shipping by rail is generally considered safe and secure, as trains are less vulnerable to theft or damage than other modes of transportation like trucks.


Disadvantages of Shipping by Rail:



  1. Limited Accessibility: Rail transport is not suitable for shipping to all locations, as rail networks are limited to specific areas. This means that goods may need to be transported by truck to or from a railway station.
  2. Longer Transit Times: Shipping by rail is typically slower than other modes of transportation like shipping by truck or plane. This is due to factors such as track maintenance, congestion, and the need to coordinate shipments with train schedules.
  3. Limited Flexibility: Rail transport operates on a fixed schedule, and changes to delivery schedules can be difficult to make. This means that shipping by rail may not be suitable for time-sensitive shipments.
  4. Handling Requirements: Some goods may require special handling requirements when being shipped by rail. For example, hazardous materials require specific packaging and labeling.


In this project

Our client was presented with two transportation options for their goods: by truck or by rail. Initially, the client expressed a preference for rail transport due to its perceived advantages of timely delivery and cost savings. However, after a thorough cost breakdown, our client discovered that the pricing for both modes of transportation was similar, which went against their initial beliefs. Our team was then tasked with negotiating a better deal for the client, who ultimately chose to transport their goods by truck due to its convenience and the fact that no new infrastructure needed to be constructed to accommodate this mode of transportation.


  • Help client choose between rail or truck transportation.
  • Formulate strategic negotiation to lower truck freight cost.
  • Streamline clients supply chain.

Cost Breakdown of rail transport

When considering the cost of shipping by rail, there are several parameters that need to be taken into account. These include rail freight cost, truck freight cost, transshipment fees, inventory costs, and railcar lease costs. Let’s take a closer look at each of these parameters:


  1. Rail Freight Cost: This is the cost of transporting goods by rail from location A to location B. The cost is calculated based on the distance traveled, the weight and volume of the goods, the type of railcar used, and any additional services required (such as refrigeration or hazardous materials handling). The rail freight cost can be negotiated with the rail carrier and is typically lower for bulk shipments.
  2. Truck Freight Cost: This is the cost of transporting goods from location B (usually a rail yard or intermodal facility) to the final destination, which may be a mine or other facility. The truck freight cost is calculated based on the distance traveled, the weight and volume of the goods, and any additional services required (such as specialized equipment or handling requirements).
  3. Transshipment Fee: This fee is charged when goods are transferred from one mode of transportation to another, such as from rail to truck. The transshipment fee covers the cost of loading and unloading the goods, as well as any handling and storage fees incurred during the transfer.
  4. Inventory Cost: This is the cost of storing goods while they are in transit. If goods are stored in a warehouse or storage facility, the inventory cost includes the cost of rent, utilities, and labor. If goods are stored on railcars, the inventory cost includes the cost of leasing the railcars and any associated maintenance fees.
  5. Railcar Lease Cost: If goods are shipped on railcars, there is a cost associated with leasing the railcars. The lease cost is calculated based on the type of railcar used, the length of the lease, and any additional services required (such as refrigeration or hazardous materials handling).

Negotiating for lower truck transportation cost

When it comes to negotiating for lower truck transportation costs, there are several strategies that shippers can use to achieve their goals. Here are some steps to consider:


  1. Research Market Rates: Before entering into negotiations, it is important to research current market rates for truck transportation. This will help shippers to determine a fair price for the services they require, and to identify any potential areas for cost savings.
  2. Build Relationships: Building relationships with carriers and brokers can help to establish a good working partnership and foster mutual trust. This can lead to more favorable rates and more flexible service options.
  3. Volume Discounts: Shippers who regularly ship large volumes of goods can negotiate for volume discounts. By agreeing to a higher volume of shipments, carriers may be willing to offer lower rates per shipment.
  4. Multi-Year Contracts: Shippers who are willing to commit to a multi-year contract with a carrier can negotiate for lower rates. This provides carriers with a guaranteed source of business over an extended period of time, which can translate into lower rates for shippers.
  5. Consolidate Shipments: Consolidating multiple shipments into a single truckload can help to reduce transportation costs. By minimizing the number of trucks required to move goods, shippers can negotiate for lower rates from carriers.
  6. Use Technology: Utilizing transportation management software and other technology solutions can help to optimize shipping routes and reduce transportation costs. This can also help shippers to negotiate for lower rates with carriers.
  7. Be Flexible: Being flexible with delivery dates and times can help shippers to negotiate for lower rates. By allowing carriers to schedule deliveries during off-peak times, shippers may be able to secure lower rates.


Following successful negotiations with various truck service providers, we were able to secure a reduction in costs of X%. This was the deciding factor for our client to choose truck transportation over rail. In addition to the cost savings, using third-party truck services and avoiding the need to construct new infrastructure have significantly reduced their operating expenses. This additional buffer will enable our client to increase profitability and maintain a competitive edge in their industry.


In addition, truck transportation offers flexible delivery times and reliable transportation, which can contribute to improved customer satisfaction, enhance the company’s reputation, and promote customer loyalty. By optimizing transportation routes, consolidating shipments, and utilizing technology, a company can also achieve greater operational efficiency, reduce waste, and enhance productivity.

Key learnings

From this discussion, there are several key learnings to be gained:

  1. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of different modes of transportation is essential for making informed decisions about shipping.
  2. Cost is a critical factor in transportation, and businesses must optimize transportation costs without compromising on quality.
  3. Negotiating for lower transportation costs requires research, relationship-building, flexibility, and strategic planning.
  4. Technology can be a valuable tool for optimizing transportation routes and reducing costs.
  5. Collaboration between shippers, carriers, and other stakeholders is essential for successful transportation management.

By applying these learnings, businesses can make more informed decisions about transportation, optimize costs, and enhance their overall operations.

Million annually saving


In conclusion, transportation is a critical component of supply chain management, and choosing the right mode of transportation can have a significant impact on a business’s profitability and competitiveness. Both truck and rail transportation have their advantages and disadvantages, and choosing the appropriate mode of transport depends on several factors such as distance, speed, cargo type, volume, and cost.


While rail transportation is ideal for long distances and bulky goods, truck transportation offers flexibility, faster delivery times, and accessibility to remote areas. However, the cost of transportation is a major consideration for businesses, and it is essential to optimize transportation costs without compromising on quality.


Negotiating for lower transportation costs is one strategy that businesses can use to reduce expenses and increase profitability. By researching market rates, building relationships with carriers, consolidating shipments, utilizing technology, and being flexible, businesses can successfully negotiate for lower transportation costs.


Overall, choosing the right mode of transportation and negotiating for lower costs requires careful planning, analysis, and collaboration between the shipper, carrier, and other stakeholders in the supply chain. By taking a strategic approach to transportation and cost management, businesses can enhance their operations, improve customer satisfaction, and achieve long-term success.

Global Supply Chain Group - vivek BWVivek Sood: Sydney based managing director of Global Supply Chain Group, a strategy consultancy specializing in supply chains. More information on Vivek is available on www.linkedin.com/in/vivek and more information on Global Supply Chain Group is available www.globalscgroup.com 

Vivek is the Managing Director of Global Supply Chain Group, a boutique strategy consulting firm specialising in Supply Chain Strategies, and headquartered in Sydney, Australia . He has over 24 years of experience in strategic transformations and operational excellence within global supply chains. Prior to co-founding Global Supply Chain Group in January 2000, Vivek was a management consultant with top-tier strategy consulting firm Booz Allen & Hamilton.

Vivek provides strategic operations and supply chain advice to boards and senior management of global corporations, private equity groups and other stakeholders in a range of industries including FMCG, food, shipping, logistics, manufacturing, chemicals, mining, agribusiness, construction materials, explosives, airlines and electricity utilities.

Vivek has served world-wide corporations in nearly 500 small and large projects on all continents with a variety of clients in many different industries. Most of projects have involved diagnostic, conceptualisation and transformation of supply chains – releasing significant amount of value for the business. His project work in supply chain management has added cumulative value in excess of $500M incorporating projects in major supply chain infrastructure investment decisions, profitable growth driven by global supply chain realignment, supply chain systems, negotiations and all other aspects of global supply chains.

Vivek has written a number of path breaking articles and commentaries that are published in several respected journals and magazines. Vivek has spoken at several supply chain conference, forums and workshops in various parts of the world. He has also conducted several strategic workshops on various aspects of supply chain management. He received his MBA with Distinction from the Australian Graduate School of Management in 1996 and prior to these studies spent 11 years in the Merchant Navy, rising from a Cadet to Master Mariner.

More information on Vivek is available on www.linkedin.com/in/vivek  and more information on Global Supply Chain Group is available on www.globalscgroup.com

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