OTR vs. Intermodal Trucking

OTR and intermodal trucking have plenty of similarities when they’re compared to each other.

Both have a foundation of transporting freight from one point to another. Both require skilled, trained drivers to operate these vehicles safely and efficiently.

However, there are plenty of differences between the two as well. The length of an average trip, the work environment, and even the equipment can all vary significantly.

Let’s first review what OTR and intermodal trucking are. Then, we’ll take a closer look at their similarities and differences.

Understanding OTR and Intermodal Trucking

What Does Intermodal Mean in Trucking?

Intermodal trucking refers to the transport of intermodal containers, also called shipping containers, by truck. When you see a shipping container on a truck, that’s an example of intermodal trucking. This type of work is commonly called drayage.

Intermodal trucking is a specialized activity within the larger trucking industry. It’s also a key link in the supply chain when it comes to intermodal freight transport.

Intermodal transportation uses ships, trains, trucks, and even planes to transport shipping containers. The name itself refers to the use of several modes of transportation. It’s a foundational process in the global supply chain.

Long-distance ship and rail transportation covers most of the distance between the origin and final destination.  However, intermodal trucking is crucial to completing the trip. It delivers the container to the starting point of its long-distance journey or the place where it will be unloaded.

We offer a more in-depth explanation of intermodal trucking in this blog post.

What is the Work Environment for Intermodal Truck Drivers?

Intermodal truck drivers tend to cover relatively short distances with each load. Drivers generally live in the same area where they work — it’s local trucking, and they’re local drivers.

Intermodal ports and rail facilities are the foundation of the intermodal driver’s work environment. This is where they pick up and drop off empty and filled containers. Intermodal drivers also regularly visit client warehouses and loading docks to receive or deliver containers.

What Kind of Special Equipment Do Intermodal Truck Drivers Use?

Intermodal drivers use truck cabs similar to or the same as those used in other types of truck driving. However, they use specialized chassis to carry shipping containers. They often use equipment like gensets and cleaning facilities to maintain specialized cargo, like temperature-controlled and food-grade, perishable shipments.

What is OTR Trucking?

Over the road trucking, sometimes called over road trucking, is abbreviated as OTR.

All types of truck driving can be broken down into three categories: local, regional, and OTR. As you might expect, OTR refers to the longest-distance trips. These drivers can and do move freight across the entire country.

OTR trucking is crucial to local, regional, and national supply chains. The ability to bring goods anywhere with road access is incredibly valuable to businesses. At the same time, it delivers choice and variety to consumers and clients of those businesses.

What is the Work Environment for OTR Truck Drivers?

OTR drivers spend a lot of time on the road — hence the name. CDL school DriveCo points out that these drivers have access to higher pay and a degree of scheduling freedom. They can work from and travel to just about anywhere in the contiguous United States.

What Kind of Special Equipment Do OTR Truck Drivers Use?

OTR drivers may use a standard dry van trailer or a variety of other options, depending on the load. Refrigerated trailers, flatbed trailers, and specialty trailers designed to protect specific types of freight, among others, are all in use.

OTR drivers spend a lot of time in and regularly sleep in their cabs, unlike intermodal drivers. OTR drivers therefore generally have cabs with a dedicated sleeping area. These drivers also tend to add more amenities and upgrades to their cabs for a similar reason.

A tractor-trailer drives under an overpass on a highway.

Intermodal vs. OTR Trucking: Similarities and Differences

Intermodal and OTR trucking have some key similarities as well as major differences. Let’s start by reviewing the ways in which these two types of truck driving are alike.

What Do OTR and Intermodal Trucking Have in Common?

Intermodal and OTR trucking share these commonalities:


    • Both involve the same basic equipment (cab and chassis)

    • They also have the same basic purpose (to deliver freight) and intent (to complete links in the supply chain)

    • Both types of work are focused on transporting freight, whether intermodal containers or a variety of trailers

    • Equipment must be regularly inspected, maintained, and replaced as needed

    • Drivers need to hold a commercial driver’s license

    • Drivers need to have the skills and knowledge to safely and efficiently operate their equipment and deliver their cargo unharmed

    • Drivers interact with clients to pick up and/or make deliveries

How Are Intermodal and OTR Trucking Different?

As you can see, the foundations of intermodal and OTR trucking are very similar. The differences are much more visible when you look at the specifics of each type of work.

Distance traveled is likely the clearest distinction. OTR trucking brings a load from its origin point to its destination. The term OTR distinguishes longer-distance driving. Intermodal trucking is one link in the much larger intermodal freight transport network, with much shorter trips.

The work environment includes some similarities but overall is very different. OTR drivers often spend many days in a row driving across the country and sleeping in their trucks. Intermodal drivers are generally home each night. Additionally, intermodal drivers work in specialized, highly regulated intermodal ports and rail facilities.

Equipment is also similar on a basic level, in terms of the truck cab. However, the trailers used are unique to each type of truck driving. OTR drivers carry a variety of trailers. Intermodal drivers, on the other hand, always work with shipping containers and the specialized chassis used to secure and transport them.

Iraheta Bros. is here to help you efficiently and reliably transport imports and exports to the Port of Oakland. Our superior skills, knowledge, and experience in drayage help us reliably navigate the port. That means we deliver your freight where it’s needed, when it’s needed.

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OTR vs. Intermodal Trucking

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