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International Forwarding Association Blog » European Logistics Network » Types of Cargo Shipped by Rail Freight Transport

Types of Cargo Shipped by Rail Freight Transport

Rail freight transport is commonly used to ship cargo, including bulk cargo and consumer goods such as household cleaning products, batteries, and paint.

Types of Cargo Shipped by Rail

The main types of cargo that are shipped by rail freight transport include hazardous materials, special cargo, and consumer goods. Special cargo includes steel pallets, automobiles, oversized cargo, and products for which certain temperatures must be maintained. Goods that require refrigeration are usually shipped in refrigerator cars while extra heavy items are transported in Schnabel cars. Closed and open autoracks are used to ship vehicles while coil cars are usually used to transport steel pallets. Consumer products include items such as insect repellents, hand sanitizers, vegetables and fruits, nuts, textile industry products, etc. Many consumer products are shipped in containers but this depends on the type of cargo.


Hazardous materials are also transported by rail, for example, liquefied petroleum gas. Given the fact that hazardous and dangerous materials pose safety and health risks, they are subject to safety controls and can be shipped in mixed and single freight loads. Hazardous cargo is subject to different regulations, including the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Rail. Dangerous goods also fall under the Convention concerning International Carriage by Rail and EU Directive 2008/68/EC on the inland shipping of dangerous goods. The members of the International Forwarding Association strictly observe all relevant regulations and directives to minimize safety and health risks during transit.

Mining materials are also shipped by rail, including coal and iron ore. They are usually shipped from mining sites to ports, manufacturing plants, and towns and cities. Coal is transported in open cars because moisture does not have a significant harmful effect. Rail transport is also used in mines, and trains are equipped with safety features such as finger-tip controls, improved suspension systems, failsafe brakes, and fire-retardant batteries.

Finally, products such as fertilizers, sugar, and grain are shipped in covered hopper cars because they require protection from rain and moisture. High density cargo such as plates, coils, and steel pipes, on the other hand, are shipped in gondolas which are open-top vehicles transporting loose bulk.

Benefits of Rail Freight Transport

Rail transport offers plenty of benefits, one being lower greenhouse gas emissions as a result of traffic reduction and road congestion. This is also a cost-effective solution to ship goods over long distances, especially distances over 800 km. The fact that extra cars can be added to existing trains means that large quantities can be shipped at considerably lower costs. Rail transport is also more affordable than transport by truck because toll fees are often paid during transit.

In addition, trucks require regular maintenance to ensure safety, and the costs are paid by the shipping companies. Reliable schedules and transit times are added benefits. To this, rail freight transport is also a safe mode of transportation given the fact that trains have a good safety record.