Understanding Port Drayage: What is it? Why is it Important?

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When we think about the supply chain, long trips are often one of the first things that come to mind. 

Consider a product that is manufactured and distributed only locally or regionally. Even this journey from raw materials to a finished product on a store shelf can cover hundreds of miles. For the global supply chain, a container can cross oceans, several countries, and many thousands of miles, before reaching its destination.

There’s no doubt that these long hauls in the shipping process are crucial to success. However, they only represent part of the larger supply chain system. Trips covering short distances are just as important. 

The vehicles, staff, and equipment used to bring a shipping container from one intermodal facility to the next are foundational. Without them, the intermodal supply chain would fall apart. There would be no way for a container to travel from a port to a warehouse. It would be much more difficult to transport a container to another facility for the next leg of its journey. 

Let’s take a closer look at what makes port container drayage so broadly valuable.

Port Drayage Meaning: What is It?

It’s not too difficult to come up with a simple port drayage definition. The activity of carrying goods over short distances is called drayage

Drayage can cover a lot of ground. It includes transporting goods within a single, very large building. It also commonly refers to carrying cargo within the same urban or metropolitan area.

When this work involves a port, and sometimes a rail hub or another similar facility, it’s called port drayage. Port drayage can occur at just about any port. However, it’s most commonly seen in intermodal freight transport.

What Does Drayage Include?

In intermodal freight transport, drayage includes everything involved in a truck carrying a shipping container over a short distance. When your business finds a dependable drayage carrier, it can count on comprehensive service. 

As long as your container is properly loaded, sealed, and ready for transport, your carrier will do the rest. Similarly, a drayage carrier can pick up a container from a port and bring it to your business. Carriers can also help make connections between intermodal facilities.

Carriers can also bring your outgoing or incoming shipping container from a port to a rail yard. That’s crucial for completing the next leg of a journey and reaching the intended destination.

While not strictly a part of port drayage, high-quality carriers tend to offer complementary services. For example, at Iraheta Bros., we maintain a full-service, food-grade warehouse. This helps our customers keep sensitive, perishable shipments safe throughout their entire journey. 

To fully understand port drayage, it definitely helps to have a grasp of intermodal transport as well. The two concepts are closely intertwined. While drayage covers freight outside of intermodal transport, this service is frequently used for intermodal containers. Let’s distinguish between these two concepts.

What’s the Difference Between Drayage and Intermodal?

Intermodal freight transport describes a globally relevant logistics industry practice that relies on a few specialized features. Some of the most important elements in the intermodal transport of goods are:

A container ship and intermodal port, seen from the side of the ship.
  • Use of multiple means of transportation. The U.S. Department of Transportation offers a clear definition of intermodal. Specifically, the “transfer of a shipment from one transportation mode to another as the shipment moves from origin to destination.” Ships, trains, trucks, planes, and other vehicles help move intermodal cargo from its origin to its destination.
  • Freight held in shipping containers. Cargo must be placed inside a shipping container to be carried through the global intermodal network. Vehicles, ports, and equipment are designed to accommodate these standardized containers.
  • Cargo remains sealed in transit. Shipping containers are sealed before they begin their journey and only opened when they reach their final destination. The lack of cargo handling helps streamline the transportation process and customs review, while also supporting security.

The Intermodal Association of North America explains that intermodal freight transport is a massive part of the economy. roughly 95% of manufactured goods produced across the world travel in a shipping container at some point. That fact makes the broad scope and worldwide relevance of intermodal transport a little easier to understand.

Port Drayage: A Key Link in the Larger Chain

How does port drayage fit into the intermodal shipping network? Drayage is one of the links within that larger network.

A shipping container that’s ready to be carried by ship or train has to first reach that vehicle. The container must reach the port, yard, or another intermodal facility where it can then be loaded for transport.

The reverse is also true. The vast majority of businesses receiving an intermodal delivery need to bring a container from a specialized port to their warehouse. By carrying containers on public roads, drayage providers complete that crucial “last mile” of delivery. They take containers out of highly controlled port environments and bring them where they need to be.

Finally, drayage trucks can bring a container from one intermodal facility to the next. In instances where a port and intermodal railyard aren’t directly connected, for example, drayage is the link between the two.

Overall, port drayage provides flexibility and access for businesses using intermodal freight transport. This transportation network is highly efficient and generally reliable, especially considering the scale and scope of its operations. 

However, intermodal shipping relies on specialized vehicles and equipment, which limits access outside of intermodal facilities. Trucks carrying containers on local roads and highways are vital for connecting businesses with intermodal freight transport.

Iraheta Bros. offers dependable drayage services to and from the Port of Oakland. Our experienced team specializes in food-grade shipments. We have the specialized equipment needed to safely transport a wide variety of freight. When you need a dependable drayage partner, you can count on us.


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Understanding Port Drayage: What is it? Why is it Important?

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