Understanding Drayage: A Guide to Types, Costs, and its Role in Shipping

In today's logistics industry, drayage plays a critical role in moving freight to and from ports, rail yards, and other transportation hubs.

Brief History of Drayage

The term "drayage" has been an integral part of the shipping and logistics industry for quite some time. Historically, drayage referred to the transport of goods over short distances, particularly within the same metropolitan area, often by a cart or dray drawn by horses. In today's logistics industry, drayage plays a critical role in moving freight to and from ports, rail yards, and other transportation hubs.

Why Do They Call It Drayage?

The term "drayage" originates from the word "dray," a low cart without fixed sides that is used for carrying heavy loads. The term has evolved to signify the act of transporting goods over short distances, especially in the context of intermodal shipping and the supply chain process.

Drayage Definition and Characteristics

Drayage is a specialized form of freight transportation that is typically confined to a local area. It can involve moving goods from an ocean port to a rail yard, or between different railroad terminals. Drayage services often use specialized drayage trucks designed for the efficient transport of containerized cargo. These services are crucial for the timely transfer of goods and form the backbone of the intermodal shipping process.


  • Short Distances
  • Uses specialized drayage trucks
  • Time-Sensitive
Drayage involves the transportation of shipping containers by truck to their final destination.

Container Drayage Meaning

Container drayage refers specifically to the short-distance transport of containerized cargo. This can be from a port to a nearby distribution center or from a rail hub to its next departure point. The container shipping industry heavily relies on these kinds of drayage services to keep goods moving through the supply chain.

What is Considered Drayage?

Drayage is considered to be any movement of goods over a short distance as part of a longer journey. This might include transferring goods from a ship to a rail car, from a rail car to a truck, or even from one mode of transportation to another within the same carrier system. Drayage services are not limited to any particular type of freight; they can include bulk freight, air freight, and more.

What is a Drayage Truck?

A drayage truck is a vehicle specifically designed for use in drayage services. These trucks are optimized for quick loading and unloading, as well as for transporting goods over short distances. They often have features that allow them to carry both full and empty containers efficiently.

Different Types of Drayage Services

Drayage services can be categorized in several ways, such as:

Pier Drayage

This involves moving cargo from a ship to a warehouse or vice versa. It is often employed at marine ports.

Inter-Carrier Drayage

This type of drayage service moves goods between different carriers, such as from a ship operated by one carrier to a rail terminal operated by another.

Intra-Carrier Drayage

In this category, goods are moved within the same carrier system, often between different types of transportation like ships and trucks.

A drayage truck, optimized for quick loading and unloading.

Drayage Classifications

Drayage can also be classified based on the nature of the service provided. Expedited drayage, for instance, offers quicker transit times and is often used for perishable goods.

Drayage vs. Over-the-Road Trucking

While both are vital components of the freight shipping ecosystem, drayage is generally used for short distances and quick transfers, whereas over-the-road (OTR) trucking involves longer distances and is part of the long-haul shipping process.

What's the Difference Between Drayage and Freight?

In the simplest terms, all drayage is freight, but not all freight is drayage. Drayage specifically refers to short-distance freight transportation, usually within the same metropolitan area or between nearby transportation hubs like ports or rail yards.

The Important Role Drayage Plays in the Shipping Process

Drayage is far from being just a secondary service in the supply chain. In fact, it serves as the critical "last-mile" or "first-mile" connector that links various segments of the supply chain together. Drayage is the adhesive that integrates different modes of transport, from container ships at ocean ports to rail terminals and distribution centers, thereby ensuring a streamlined, efficient, and cost-effective supply chain process.

In the complex ecosystem of logistics, drayage provides a way to move shipping containers filled with goods to and from their immediate departure and arrival points. As such, drayage is indispensable for the functionality of the supply chain, and its importance cannot be overstated.

Given the time-sensitive nature of shipping, any delay in drayage can result in bottlenecks that ripple across the entire supply chain, thereby emphasizing the need for a reliable and efficient drayage service market.

Whether it's moving an empty container to a port for filling or transporting a full load to a distribution center for further dissemination, drayage plays an irreplaceable role in the shipping process. Moreover, drayage fees are often a significant consideration in the total cost of shipping, making it a key factor in the overall economics of freight logistics.

Two trucks moving drayage shipping containers.

Drayage and Intermodal Shipping

Drayage is frequently a part of intermodal shipping, where goods travel using several modes of transport—such as rail, sea, and truck—without the need for unloading and reloading the cargo between modes. Intermodal transport relies heavily on drayage services to move shipping containers from one mode to another, effectively serving as the vital link between these various modes of transportation.

For example, a shipment might arrive at a port on a container ship and then need to be moved to a rail terminal for the next leg of its journey. Here, drayage services would be responsible for moving the container from the ship to the rail hub, providing the necessary intermodal transport between sea and rail.

This highlights the interoperability of drayage within the larger framework of multimodal transport and how it serves as an essential part of the intermodal association that governs these various shipping methods.

What is Intermodal Drayage?

Intermodal drayage refers to the specialized drayage services that move goods between different types of transport—such as from a rail terminal to an ocean port, or from a port to a distribution center. In many cases, the journey of a shipping container involves multiple stops at various intermodal hubs, where one form of transport ends and another begins.

These intermodal hubs could be anything from ports to rail yards, and the role of intermodal drayage is to ensure that the transition between these different forms of transport is as smooth and efficient as possible.

It's an intricate part of the intermodal shipping process, designed to ensure that goods are efficiently transferred between long-haul carriers without unnecessary delays or complications.

In summary, intermodal drayage is the cog in the wheel of intermodal transport, ensuring that whether it's a door-to-door drayage from the port to the customer or from one intermodal unit to another, the cargo gets to where it needs to be in the most efficient way possible. It's a highly optimized and specialized service, often requiring the use of specialized drayage trucks designed to handle the load and container size specifications of intermodal units.


Understanding drayage is essential for anyone involved in the logistics industry. It's a specialized service that plays a crucial role in the supply chain, offering a proven, efficient, and cost-effective method for transporting goods over short distances. Whether you're a shipper, carrier, or logistics service provider, leveraging drayage services can significantly improve your operations.

If you're looking for reliable, efficient, and customizable drayage services, look no further than Revolution Trucking. We offer a range of solutions tailored to meet your specific needs. Contact us today to find out how we can help you streamline your operations.

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