How to move goods by rail

Is rail transport right for your goods?


For international shipments, rail is often used as part of an intermodal movement where cargo is transferred between trains and other types of transport.

Consignments shipped from Europe via the east coast of the USA often cross the American continent by rail rather than travel through the Panama Canal. Through-rail services operate via the Channel Tunnel to mainland Europe, and the railway community is developing onward services to Russia and Central Asia. To run a full train you will need a significant amount of traffic (several full wagons for each shipment), although a single container for multimodal movements can be booked on an existing service.

Rail can be a complex transport solution, but used effectively it can give you a viable option for moving your goods. The advantages of rail transport include benefits to the environment and less expensive, quicker and more practical journeys when compared with road transport. Equally, limited and inflexible routes and timetables can increase costs and slow down the movement of goods. While loading and marshalling are expensive, you can make economies by moving many consignments at once. Rail is generally more cost-efficient than road transport if the journey exceeds 400 kilometres.

Deciding how best to route your goods around the world and which modes of transport to use at each stage of the journey can be a daunting task. Freight forwarders and transport operators are experts in finding the route and modes that meet your specific criteria, eg cost or duration - see using brokers and forwarders.

Some traders choose to deal direct with rail companies for procedures such as booking freight, arranging rolling stock and organising railyard operations. 

Rail freight on the island of Ireland

There are currently no freight train operations or freight terminals on the Northern Ireland Railways network. If you require such facilities you can contact Translink's NIR Access Enquiries on Tel. 028 9035 1201.

You can read about rail freight services on the irish rail network on the Iarnród Éireann website.

Rail freight in Great Britain

Network Rail offers advice on all aspects of moving freight by rail in Great Britain - find out more about how to move your goods by rail on the Network Rail website.