4 Types of freight transportation | Citizenshipper

Ulhas Sukhare Ulhas Sukhare · Updated: March 8, 2023 / Published: August 27, 2020

Freight waits for no man. Enormous wealth and industry are devoted to moving vast amounts of goods in the shortest possible time. The right mode of freight transportation can make or break a business or manufacturer, and millions of dollars go into improving each mode every year.

Given the scale of the freight transportation, it’s no surprise how many varieties and subvarieties of vehicles and crates there are. Knowing which one is best for any particular need is a decision with a potential fortune resting on it. The right type of truck, say, could save a business millions. A clear picture of the choice involved is necessary before making this choice.

Of the many ‘species’ of transportation out there, they all fall into four main families: Air, sea, road and rail. In this guide we take a holistic look at each one and give their benefits and downsides. By the end, any decision about modes of freight transportation will be much easier to make. But we have to start from the top down. Let’s learn about the great, feuding dynasties of freight.


Air freight is the youngest mode of freight transportation. It is also the fastest, and typically the most expensive. It joins sea freight as the only mode that can travel across oceans and, like sea freight, it can necessitate a lengthy loading and unloading process at either end of the flight. Like sea freight again, customs offices play a large role at each port, and can even strip sea freight of its competitive advantage: lower cost. Depending on the freight itself – its weight, volume, delicacy, country of origin, etc – customs offices can impose large fees or charges that can result in air freight being cheaper than sea freight, as well as faster, over the same distance. The type of freight determines a big fraction of the cost.

To go into more detail, the size of a consignment determines the cost of sea freight more than the actual weight. Heavier cargo can be more cost-effective to transport by air. Air freight carriers also charge shippers based on size AND weight, whereas sea freight carriers are more exclusively concerned by size.


Sea freight (or ocean freight) is popular with customers looking to transport great quantities of goods. An average sea freight vessel can carry roughly eighteen thousand containers between ports. The average length of a container is twenty feet, and the equivalent of twenty washing machines can be stored inside. That means a single cargo ship could potentially transport 360,000 washing machines. At once.

In terms of the sheer volume each cargo ship can carry, transport by sea is best for bulk. Mass-produced, non-natural goods like vehicles, tools and appliances tend to be carried on ships, since the slower journey time does not affect the condition of the cargo – as it would with, say, food.

For those buying stock in bulk from overseas, sea freight shipping is usually the cheapest shipping method. If you’re importing a bulk amount of goods, sea freight could be the most cost-efficient option for you.


Despite being the oldest method of freight transportation on this list, volumes reached 2.36 trillion tonne-kilometers in 2019 – and that’s only the US. 

It’s proportionally as popular a method of transporting freight as it was when invented. Naturally it does not cross oceans, but aside from expensive air freight it is the fastest mode of freight hauling available.

Rail has another advantage: customisable carriages. Any single train can pull a variety of carriages with different specialisations, from simple twenty-foot containers to highly specialised tank cars for transporting chemicals. The US is especially fortunate when it comes to rail freight: Running on almost 140,000 route miles, the US freight rail network has been called the largest, safest and most cost-efficient freight system in the world.

Its main American competitor is trucking. However, unlike regular roads, US freight railroads are owned by private organizations who are responsible for their own maintenance and improvement projects. Since there is a stronger financial incentive to keep them operational, railroads are often more reliable than roads too. Almost $25 billion is spent on freight railroads annually.


While freight trucking experienced a mild decline from the middle of the decade, revenue streams have since recovered to create a market worth almost 800 billion US dollars. In total, there were over 895,000 heavy truck drivers in the US in 2019, according to Statista.

The biggest effect on cost for road freight comes down to which shipping (or trucking) service you choose. For shipping across the US, an online marketplace is your best bet. The competition of the market will keep shipping costs low as drivers vie for your shipment. A shipping service with a positive reputation is also a good guarantee of safety and reliability in transit.

One such service is CitizenShipper. Post your shipment free of cost today and wait for the quotes to roll in. Choose the driver you want: some customers value experience over price, others favour drivers with the best testimonials.

Once you’ve made your choice, negotiate the freight cost. Then prepare your cargo and relax: The transporter will take it from here. 

Featured Image Credit: hgroupco.com