Container Freight Shipping

Shipping containers by road or rail

Container shipping illustration

If you’re looking for information about shipping containers by road or rail, you’ve come to the right place.

Here, you’ll find everything you could possibly need including the relevant jargon, documentation needed, container types, regulations, etc.

What is Container Shipping

Containers come in various sizes. The standard shipping container is 40’ long, 8’ wide, and 8’6” tall. 

Containers also come in lengths of 20’, 10’, 8’, and 6’. The smallest one (6’) weighs approximately 1500 lbs when empty and the largest (40’) weighs around 10,000 lbs on its own.

Container shipping is just that — shipping already loaded containers. When it comes to ground shipping that usually entails shipping to or from a port.

That, in turn, means that container shipping comes with its own set of issues, delays, and requirements.

Relevant Jargon for Shipping Containers

  • Loaded container: A container with freight inside it
  • Modified Container: A container that has had alterations made to it. These containers are considered loaded for shipping purposes.
  • DD Container: A container that has a double door on each of its sides.
  • Open Side: A container with no side-walls 
  • Office: A container that has had modifications inside the container itself; considered loaded for shipping purposes
  • Open Top: A container with no ceiling
  • Open-end: A container that has as no end walls; these containers are generally used for sidewalks
  • Cargo-worthy: A container that has had no holes detected on it and its doors have been sealed shut; it is considered ready for transport
  • One Trip: A new container
  • Release Number/trip number: A code or a number used at the time of pickup

Most Common Types of Containers in Freight Shipping

There are multiple types of containers out there that can be used for different purposes or amounts of freight cargo.

The standard container sizes are:

Length Dimensions Weight (Empty)
6’ 6’ L X 6’6” W x 6’3” H  1450 lbs
8’ 8’ L X 7’2” W X 7’6” H 1870 lbs
10’ 10’ L X 8’ W X 8’6” H 2870 lbs
20’ 20’ L X 8’ W X 8’6” H 4800 lbs
40’ 40’ L X 8’ W X 8’6” H 10,000 lbs

Anything outside of this (usually larger than 40’) would be considered either special order or a modified container. 

For any overly tall cargo high-cube containers are used which are 9’6” tall. These types of containers require special handling, paperwork, and specialized trucks to transport them (step decks, flat decks, or super B’s). 

Containers of this height come in the following sizes:

Length Dimensions Weight (Empty)
9’HC 9’ L X 8’ W X 9’6” H 2200 lbs
10’HC 10’ L X 8’ W X 9’6” H  3200 lbs
20’HC 20’ L X 8’ W X 9’6” H  5000 lbs
40’HC 40’ L X 8’ W X 9’6” H 12,000 lbs
45’HC 45’ L X 8’ W X 9’6” H  15,000 lbs
48’HC 48’ L X 8’6” W X 9’6” H 18,000 lbs
53’HC 53’ L X 8’6” W X 9’6” H 20,000 lbs

 In extreme cases, there are containers with a height of 10’6” that must be transported via a lowboy trailer which can accommodate shipments up to 12’ in height. 

Length Dimensions Weight (Empty)
40’ SHC 40’ L x 8’ W x 10’ H 15,000 lbs

Most Common Issues with Container Freight Shipping

Firstly, to ship containers, permits are required. There are strict regulations on how much your shipment can overhang from a truck as well as what hours of the day a truck carrying a container can travel on state roads.

The main problem with container shipping is the delays. These delays are most commonly caused by customs, port clearance issues, and a shortage of trucks. 

Delays can also be out of anyone’s control. For example, port congestion cannot, in any way, be impacted by the carrier or the actual port. Usually, this means that the port is overwhelmed by the volume of incoming shipments and/or is lacking manpower.

Waiting times for loading and unloading can last between 1 and 3 hours which induces additional fees. This is relatively standard and the first hour of waiting is usually free.

However, waiting times over 3 hours can (and likely will) become lump sum detention charges, potentially followed by layover charges.

How to Avoid Delays and Extra Charges

Avoiding the delays and charges is not always going to be up to you. However, there are certain steps you can take to minimize the odds of them happening.

Firstly, make sure you get a quote on time. For container shipments, a month or so ahead of the actual pickup date is a good time to get an estimate. Considering that this is quite early as far as quoting goes, there are likely to be changes in pricing.

Either way, quoting far enough ahead will give you a good estimate of the charges you can expect and it will prepare both the carrier and your Freightera shipping expert for what is to come on time.

Next, you will want to make sure that once the shipment arrives at the port (if it is inbound), everything is ready, cleared, and paid as soon as possible. Considering that there may be truck shortages, a missed pickup could mean further delays and headaches.

You will also want to be sure that both the pickup and delivery locations are well equipped for loading and unloading. This way you are far more likely to avoid any additional waiting time fees. 

Permits and Regulations for Container Shipping

For shipping several 20’ x 3’ containers, permits are required, as well as the ability for them to overhang from the truck at the back and the front. Empty containers can only overhang from the truck by 4′ 9″ on each side. Loaded containers must remain within the bounds of the truck trailer at all times and they have to be secured by chains

Shipments over 10’ are generally covered by the carriers’ term permits which are permits valid for a set amount of time. However, shipments over 14’6” in height require specific permits outside of the ones carriers have on hand. These additional permits are also acquired by carriers directly, but this may take additional time. In order to avoid delays, it’s best to keep this in mind during the quoting process.

Containers with widths between 8’6” and 11’5” will require special permits in order to be moved by road. Anything exceeding that (11’6” and up) will require pilot cars as well. 

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