line haul

Line Haul Transportation: Definition, Comparisons & Carriers

Freight transportation is arguably the most important component in a supply chain, as it connects sellers and manufacturers with buyers and end-users. The US Department of Transportation claims that shippers move around 55.2 million tons of freight on average daily via road, sea, air, and rail – the four main modes of freight transport. 

While it’s crucial to distinguish between each mode of transport, it’s also important to point out that there are different service types or classifications of transport that share similarities between land, sea, and air transport. One of these service types is line haul.

In this article, we deep-dive into the topic of line haul and compare it with other transport methods in the freight industry. Additionally, we’ve also listed some of the most popular companies that offer line haul services. 

What Is a Line Haul? 

Line haul is the transportation of cargo between two specified locations via land, air, or sea. The route between these two specified locations is typically fixed and includes transport between seaports, airports, cities, business facilities, factories, residences, or warehouses. 

Businesses use line haul transportation to move large quantities of products and materials between two regularly frequented locations, which would otherwise be too expensive or difficult to ship using other methods or means.  

line haul truck
A Line Haul Truck Moving Cargo

One of the major advantages of line haul transportation is that it can be done through the use of trucks, ocean vessels, trains, and cargo planes. As a result, shippers have multiple options to choose from. 

These services would often have defined departure and arrival times, through a regular schedule, that is applicable to both local and international shipments.

Moreover, carriers offering line haul services usually have fixed routes and can move anything from paper documents to industrial machinery, between various heavily-frequently locations.

Example of a Line Haul Service:

To explain how line haul services work, we’ve prepared the following example. A shipper wants to move packaged goods to a customer that is located in another country. They decide to opt for a logistics provider that transports the goods via air freight between the origin and destination airport. 

The logistics company picks up the goods at the shipper’s premises, proceeds to load it onto its truck, and transports it to a consolidation warehouse. At the facility, the cargo is sorted according to its destination and transported to the airport through a line haul service that the logistics provider offers. 

The route from the consolidation warehouse to the origin airport is a heavily-frequently that is scheduled twice a day, and is therefore classified as a line haul. 

Thereafter, the goods along with other cargo are transported to the carrier’s terminal and subsequently loaded onto a cargo plane, before it arrives at the destination country. 

Line Haul Trucking

When it comes to the most popular mode of freight transportation, trucking (or road freight) leads the race, accounting for nearly 70% of goods shipped worldwide, as road networks give trucks greater coverage and more access.

That is also a reason why line haul services are most often, but not exclusively rendered by trucks, between two hubs, cities, or locations. Apart from line haul being a frequently used service type, it’s often confused with short haul, long haul, and other transport terms due to overlapping definitions and other similarities.

To address this, we’ve dedicated a section to distinguishing line haul from some of the most common freight services in the market:

Line Haul vs. Long Haul

Long-haul transportation is commonly associated with moving goods over long distances (generally anything above 250 miles). Businesses commonly use long-haul transportation for shipments that need to be moved across cities or countries via rail, trucks, air, or sea.

As a result, deliveries can often take several days and even weeks, depending on the distance. Furthermore, long hauls may cover multiple trips to several locations before making a backhaul trip back to its original destination.

In contrast, line haul transportation in road freight is typically associated with moving goods over shorter distances, usually within the same city or state. As a result, deliveries are much faster and generally completed within the same day. 

Line haul transportation offers several lucrative benefits for truckers and carriers. For instance, fixed routes and faster deliveries mean drivers don’t require long breaks while on the move.

Moreover, avoiding long breaks or layovers reduces fuel and maintenance costs from idling. Carriers with large fleets can also simplify operations and management with better tracking and incident response. 

Nevertheless, since shipment costs are based on distance, line haul service providers don’t usually generate as much income or revenue as long-haul service providers.

Line Haul vs. Short Haul

As the name implies, short-haul transportation is the process of moving goods within cities commonly using straight trucks, and usually within a 150-mile radius. Short-haul transportation would also typically involve transporting less-than-truckload (LTL) between multiple destinations or hubs.

In contrast, line haul transportation involves using both small and large freight vehicles between two specified locations, typically through scheduled departures. Moreover, line haul services are also extended to other modes of transport and can be domestic or international freight movements. 

Short-haul truck drivers usually operate on routes within a fixed-mile radius. As a result, they stay closer to home since all deliveries are completed within the same day.

The main drawback is that short-haul drivers tend to earn less than line haul and long-haul drivers since they get paid by the mile and are required to take on smaller, less lucrative shipments.

As a result, they have to take on numerous short trips and optimize their truckloads to maximize their income. In addition to that, the more shipments they move, the more paperwork and loading/unloading processes they have to manage.

Line Haul vs. Regional Transport

Regional freight transportation involves moving cargo via trucks across different states. As a result, regional truck drivers are usually on the road for several days before delivery is completed.

Conversely, line haul drivers may complete multiple deliveries each day since they usually operate within a 150-mile radius. Since regional drivers cover more distances and transport cargo in different conditions, they earn more pay compared to line haul drivers.

However, being on the road for several days would mean that regional drivers are away from their homes for long periods and face increased truck expenses for overnight accommodations and more regular truck maintenance.  

Furthermore, regional transportation usually entails longer idling times due to rest periods, traffic, or inclement weather. As a result, carriers usually incur higher fuel costs per mile than line haul companies. 

Line Haul vs. Pick-Up & Delivery (P&D)

Pick-Up & Delivery (P&D) is similar to line haul transportation. The key difference is that P&D only covers short-distance deliveries as these operations are usually within the same town or city.

Moreover, deliveries are usually made using small freight vehicles, such as sprinter vans and box trucks. Therefore, pick-up & delivery services are often used for packages smaller in size and of lower weight or single consignments.  

In contrast, line haul services cover local, inter-state, and international deliveries as long as the destination is within their operating areas. As a result, line haul drivers typically earn more since they cover more miles than P&D drivers and usually transport a full truckload.

However, P&D drivers are usually hired by companies that offer several other perks, such as insurance, vacation pay, and even a 401k.

Line Haul vs. Dedicated Transportation

Both line haul and dedicated transportation are similar in that they would normally deliver products between two specific locations such as production points, distribution centers, and retail stores.

However, line haul service providers offer their services to multiple shippers (usually by moving consolidated cargo, whereas dedicated freight transportation companies only pull freight for certain customers (sometimes even a single one).

Line haul companies have the edge over dedicated companies since they’re not contract-bound and are allowed to transport cargo for multiple shippers. Therefore, they’re not limited to a single source of income.

Nonetheless, dedicated company drivers don’t have to worry about the market demand or securing loads. They have a steady income for driving goods and materials to and from different locations. 

Line Haul Air

As mentioned earlier, line haul also applies to other modes of transport, including air freight. Line haul air carriers are the go-to choice for urgent shipments or areas inaccessible via trucks. Shipments are transported from small airports to different hubs using smaller cargo aircraft. 

Line Haul Ocean

Line haul transportation can also be done via sea freight. In this case, cargo is transported on a single vessel (typically a container ship or barge) between two terminals or ports.

The industry also classifies the feeder vessel or cargo barge as a line haul since it facilitates the movement of goods between two fixed ports. 

Line Haul Rail

Finally, line haul rail transportation is the movement of goods and materials via freight trains between two rail depots, ports, or hubs. This method is typically used to ship bulk cargo or containers using line-haul rail services instead of trucks.

Moving cargo via rail is typically more economical compared to trucks, especially since some rail networks are connected to seaports. We’ve written an article covering the differences between rail freight and truck services if you’re interested in reading more about it.

Most Common Line Haul Carriers

Line haul service providers are an essential component of any supply chain, including international trade, e-Commerce, or domestic transport.

As a result, most national and international carriers worldwide offer line haul services and offer scheduled connections between various locations. Below are some of the most popular line haul carriers in the market:

  • ArcBest (US)
  • Blue Dart Express (India)
  • CRST Logistics (US)
  • DHL (Germany)
  • FedEx (US)
  • J.B. Hunt (US)
  • Knight-Swift Transportation (US)
  • Landstar (US)
  • Landstar System (US)
  • Old Dominion Freight Line (US)
  • Poste Italiane (Italy)
  • PostNL (Netherlands)
  • Royal Mail (UK)
  • S.F. Express (China)
  • Saia Motor Freight Line (US)
  • Schneider (US)
  • TFI International (Canada)
  • Toll Logistics (Japan)
  • UPS (US)
  • Werner Enterprises (US)
  • XPO Logistics (US)
  • Yamato Holdings (Japan)
  • YRC Worldwide (US)
  • ZTO Express (China)