Eastern Europe Shipping Blog

Expert tips on smarter shipping between the U.S. and Eastern Europe, including shipping of heavy goods.

Sourcing Dray Capacity: Ocean Carrier or Trucking Broker?


When you need to get a container to the port or rail terminal, or from port or rail terminal to its final destination, you have some choices to make. One of them is how to source that over-the-road move. Should you work with the steamship line that provides the international transportation? Or should you work with a trucking broker?

Before you decide, here are some important factors to consider.

With ocean carriers, small guys get there last

trucking brokerWhen you book international transportation directly with a steamship line, it might seem easier to let the same carrier find a truck for the over-the-road move. Shipping lines do offer that service. But in an era of scarce capacity, not everyone gets the same access to trucks.

If you ship thousands of containers, like Walmart or Home Depot, you already know how to navigate a shipping line’s complex corporate maze. You probably have a dedicated service rep, someone who always returns your calls. Need trucks? You’ve got ‘em.

But if you ship just a few containers a year, it’s a lot harder to get anyone’s attention at a steamship line. And when capacity gets tight, you’re not exactly first in line for a truck.

You won’t have that problem when you work with a partner that specializes in managing truck moves, especially if you work with a smaller broker. That service provider will value your business and work hard to get you what you need.


Tight capacity? That will cost you.

You probably know that when your container sits too long at a marine port or rail terminal, you incur storage charges. But did you know that a steamship line will charge you a storage fee even when it’s the steamship line’s decision to strand your container at the port or rail terminal? Imagine it: the carrier calls to say you won’t have a truck for another week and, by the way, that delay will cost you $500 or more.

With a trucking broker, there’s much less chance that you’ll incur an extra fee. A good broker, with an extensive network of trucking companies, knows how to get your cargo on the road before storage charges kick in.


You dropped my container where?

In recent months, tight truck capacity nationwide has become such a challenge that sometimes, after a steamship line commits to managing an over-the-road move, it will wriggle out of its obligation.

In normal times, after you book a load, if you want to change the destination on the Bill of Lading, the line charges around $300 to make that adjustment. But in a tight capacity market, when an ocean carrier can’t find a trucker to take your load, the line will usually waive the change fee. Instead of delivering the load to your facility or your customer, the line will terminate the move at the terminal. That leaves you to find a truck on your own.

If you’re lucky, the steamship line will ask for permission to make that change. If you’re not lucky, it will tell you the container has arrived at the port or rail terminal and you’re on your own.

Then you’ll need to scramble for a truck. If you can’t find one fast, your load will arrive late. And you might have to pay storage fees.

When you book your inland transportation with a trucking broker, you can trust that a truck will be ready to pick up your container. Your load will usually arrive at its destination as scheduled, at the expected price.

Broker to the rescue

A company that imports building materials to the United States called I.C.E. Transport in a panic. A container filled with nails had just arrived at the rail terminal in Chicago. The company had contracted with the steamship line to deliver the container to Plano, IL. But the line had just informed the customer that it was terminating the shipment at the rail terminal, where it would have two free days of storage. The company would need to find its own truck.

Tapping its extensive network of carriers, I.C.E. Transport quickly found a trucker to handle the load and got the container on its way.

Cost-saving strategies for heavy freight

When you ship heavy freight, and you rely on an ocean carrier for your inland transportation, that could increase your transportation costs. That’s because most steamship lines insist that you can’t put more than 44,000 pounds in a container. Actually, an ocean container can carry as much as 55,000 pounds. That weight is perfectly legal, as long as you find a specialized trucker with the overweight permits and equipment to handle the landside transportation.

A broker that knows how to manage heavy freight shipments can easily find you such a trucker. With help from that broker, you can load approximately 10,000 pounds more cargo into each container, significantly decreasing the cost per unit or pound to ship your product.

Read our Ultimate Guide to Shipping   Heavyweight and Oversized Freight


Ocean carrier or trucking broker?

Sometimes an ocean carrier provides a better deal on inland transportation. Because steamship lines own or lease their containers, and they operate container depots all over the country, they can often quote you a trucking rate based on a one-way trip. A trucking broker has to charge for a round trip—moving the full container to your destination and then returning the empty to the port or rail terminal. In those cases, the ocean carrier charges less.

But does that rate represent the full cost? Will your cargo sit at the terminal for days? Will you end up paying storage charges, or paying extra to find a truck at the last minute? Will your cargo get to its final destination a week late? 

Sourcing trucking services from an ocean carrier exposes you to extra risk. Don’t take chances. To learn more about how an experienced broker provides reliable inland transportation at a reasonable cost—for conventional, heavyweight or oversized loads—contact the experts at I.C.E. Transport.

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