8 min read

What Is Drayage?

Jake Rheude

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We live in a multi-modal world. Before a product arrives on your customer’s doorstep, it has probably traveled on several different modes of transport before and after eCommerce fulfillment packaged and shipped the order. One of those was undoubtedly drayage.

Though you might not be aware of drayage, it’s a crucial link in the supply chain. Drayage provides the connections that make multimodal freight work. 

A better understanding of your supply chain will help you manage it more efficiently. Here’s everything you need to know about drayage.

Drayage truck

What is Drayage?

Drayage is the short-haul trucking transfer of goods from ports to first destinations inland, the first journey from container ships to rail yards, warehouses, or storage lots. Drayage also refers to any short distance connection between different modes of long-haul transport and sometimes delivers freight to order fulfillment warehouses.

One example of drayage is transporting exhibitor display materials from the loading dock into a convention hall. Another is moving products from a delivery drop-off to stor

Drayage, Past and Present

Originally, a dray was a type of horse that was used to pull heavy loads. A more common name for this type of horse is a draft horse. These are large and strong horses, such as the Clydesdales that you might associate with a beer commercial. Dray also described the open-sided cart that a dray horse would pull. Drays were usually used to haul heavy loads.

Horse-drawn drayage cart

The term drayage was historically used to describe the process of moving goods in a dray cart. In the modern supply chain, drayage is done by truck. Drayage is also the term for the charge for this type of freight service.

shipping zones

What are Drayage Services?

There are several types of drayage services. The Intermodal Association of America lists six different types of drayage.

  • Pier Drayage. This is trucking to the port. The drayage truck will usually pick up a load at a rail hub and deliver it to a pier or dock for loading onto a ship.
  • Intra-Carrier (IMX) Drayage. Drayage trucks may be used to get goods from one place to another within the intermodal transport hub of a single freight carrier.
  • Inter-Carrier Drayage. Trucks transfer cargo from one carrier to another. This could involve a transfer from rail to sea, rail to rail, or sea to rail. Drayage trucks will also deliver cargo to long-haul trucking companies that will take it to its final destination.
  • Shuttle Drayage. Sometimes a dock or other shipping hub will have more shipping containers than it can hold. Shuttle drayage moves containers to another location for temporary storage. The shuttled containers may be either empty or full.
  • Expedited Drayage. Like expedited shipping, when a load of cargo must get to its destination quickly and urgently, expedited drayage can truck it there.
  • Door-to-Door Drayage. This is trucking direct from the transportation hub to the end customer.
Types of drayage

The Role of Drayage in the Modern Supply Chain

A truly local supply chain is rare in modern eCommerce. Most supply chains span multiple countries, and many products are shipped around the globe. Drayage can transport goods at multiple points on the supply chain.

Drayage services are more essential than ever. Global supply chains rely on multimodal transport to ship goods from manufacturers that are far from their end customers. Drayage provides crucial links in this transport chain. These short-haul trucks deliver FTL or LTL freight loads between one mode of transport and another.

What is Multimodal Transport?

Multimodal transport refers to transportation services that involve more than one method of conveyance. 

For example, a container full of your products might leave a factory in China by truck. That’s drayage. The truck delivers the container to a port, where it is loaded on a ship bound for the U.S. Once the ship arrives in the U.S., the container is loaded onto a truck for transfer away from the port. Drayage services take the container to a rail depot, where it is loaded on a train car. The train takes the container closer to its final destination — perhaps somewhere more inland. Then the container is loaded onto another truck for more drayage services. This final, short-haul truck takes the container to a fulfillment warehouse, distribution center, store, or other business. Air freight can also be a segment of a multimodal transport supply chain. 

Shipping containers

Multimodal transport facilitates global supply chains. A multimodal approach allows you to take advantage of the efficiencies of different types of transport for different segments of the trip. This keeps your transportation costs as low as possible.


Some eCommerce businesses utilize zone skipping to lower their delivery costs. Zone skipping means combining many orders into an LTL or FTL freight load and shipping them closer to the customers, so products travel by less expensive freight for most of the journey. When they are off-loaded to a local carrier for last-mile delivery, the packages travel through fewer shipping zones. That translates to lower shipping costs.

Zone-skipping includes drayage to bridge different segments of the journey. For example, you might use drayage services to deliver packages to the trucking hub for long-distance shipping. And drayage might take the shipment from the hub to the carrier that will deliver packages to individual customers.

Multimodal shipping to fulfillment warehouse locations

You can also use drayage to get products from a port or a rail or trucking hub to a fulfillment center. When you handle your eCommerce fulfillment from a warehouse close to the port, your goods can go from the pier to the warehouse by drayage. 

However, using a warehouse close to a port for your fulfillment can increase both your shipping costs and delivery time. A better fulfillment strategy is to use centrally located national fulfillment services. From these fulfillment centers, you can ship cheaply and quickly to more of the U.S.

Drayage to fulfillment warehouse

A strategically located fulfillment warehouse will probably be away from the coast. You might use drayage services to transfer shipments from the port or rail link to your 3PL services provider’s warehouse. The cost for this short-haul trucking will be more than made up by what you save on shipping.

Working with Drayage Service Providers

Drayage drivers are sometimes independent contractors. They line up to transport containers each time a ship comes in. Most eCommerce business owners will never directly contract with the truck that takes their products from one mode of transport to another. Instead, drayage will be arranged by the freight forwarder that handles your multimodal transport. 

Reduce your eCommerce freight and shipping costs

Your products travel on a complex journey from factory to fulfillment center to your customers. Understanding each step of that journey can help you find ways to reduce costs.

Ultimately, storing your products closer to your customers is the best way to reduce eCommerce shipping costs. Trucking your products to multiple warehouses is an upfront cost that can save you money in the long run. You’ll ship your orders through fewer shipping zones, which can lead to big savings on shipping. 

In addition, your customers will be thrilled when they get their orders quickly without rush charges. Fast, reliable shipping is the key to consumer loyalty and trust. Your eCommerce success depends on it.

drayage can end at a 3PL

How Red Stag Fulfillment helps eCommerce companies manage their supply chains

Red Stag Fulfillment offers fast, accurate pick and pack fulfillment services specializing in heavy, bulky, and high-value eCommerce products. Our goal is to ensure that all our clients have the support they need to grow and scale their businesses. We can help you connect with a freight forwarding company to handle drayage and other links in your transportation chain. If you have questions about anything related to your supply chain, we want to help.

Speak to a Red Stag Fulfillment freight rate specialist

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