Flexible, easily workable railway freight for lower costs,
shorter lead times.

The advantages of railway transportation include the facts that it is less expensive than air transportation and faster than ocean transportation.

Traditionally, large shippers build factories and warehouses near rail lines and have a section of track on their property called a siding where goods are loaded onto or unloaded from rail cars. Other shippers have their goods hauled (drayed) by wagon or truck to or from a goods station (freight station in US). Smaller locomotives transfer the rail cars from the sidings and goods stations to a classification yard, where each car is coupled to one of several long-distance trains being assembled there, depending on that car’s destination. When long enough, or based on a schedule, each long-distance train is then dispatched to another classification yard. At the next classification yard, cars are resorted. Those that are destined for stations served by that yard are assigned to local trains for delivery. Others are reassembled into trains heading to classification yards closer to their final destination. A single car might be reclassified or switched in several yards before reaching its final destination, a process that made rail freight slow and increased costs. Many freight rail operators are trying to reduce these costs by reducing or eliminating switching in classification yards through techniques such as unit trains and containerization.[2] In many countries, railroads have been built to haul one commodity, such as coal or ore, from an inland point to a port.

Rail freight uses many types of goods wagon (UIC) or freight car (US). These include box cars (US) or covered wagons (UIC) for general merchandise, flat cars (US) or flat wagons (UIC) for heavy or bulky loads, well wagons or “low loader” wagons for transporting road vehicles; there are refrigerator vans for transporting food, simple types of open-topped wagons for transporting bulk material, such as minerals and coal, and tankers for transporting liquids and gases. Most coal and aggregates are moved in hopper wagons or gondolas (US) or open wagons (UIC) that can be filled and discharged rapidly, to enable efficient handling of the materials.

A major disadvantage of rail freight is its lack of flexibility. In part for this reason, rail has lost much of the freight business to road transport. Many governments are now trying to encourage more freight onto trains, because of the environmental benefits that it would bring; rail transport is very energy efficient.[3] Compared to road transport whісh employs the uѕе of trucks, rail transportation ensures that goods that соuld оtherwіѕе be transported on а number of trucks are transported in а single shipment. Thіѕ saves а lot аѕ fаr аѕ cost connected to the transportation are concerned.[4]

In Europe (particularly Britain), many manufacturing towns developed before the railway. Many factories did not have direct rail access. This meant that freight had to be shipped through a goods station, sent by train and unloaded at another goods station for onward delivery to another factory. When lorries (trucks) replaced horses it was often economical and faster to make one movement by road. In the United States, particularly in the West and Mid-West towns developed with railway and factories often had a direct rail connection. Despite the closure of many minor lines carload shipping from one company to another by rail remains common.

Railroads were early users of automatic data processing equipment, starting at the turn of the twentieth century with punched cards and unit record equipment.[5] Many rail systems have turned to computerized scheduling and optimization for trains which has reduced costs and helped add more train traffic to the rails.

Freight railroads relationship with other modes of transportation varies widely. There is almost no interaction with airfreight, close cooperation with ocean-going freight and a mostly competitive relationship with long distance trucking and barge transport. Many businesses ship their products by rail if they are shipped long distance because it can be cheaper to ship in large quantities by rail than by truck; however barge shipping remains a viable competitor where water transport is available.[6]

Freight trains are sometimes illegally boarded by individuals who do not have the money or the desire to travel legally, a practice referred to as “hopping“. Most hoppers sneak into train yards and stow away in boxcars. Bolder hoppers will catch a train “on the fly”, that is, as it is moving, leading to occasional fatalities, some of which go unrecorded. The act of leaving a town or area, by hopping a freight train is sometimes referred to as “catching-out”, as in catching a train out of town.