Terms & Glossaries of Shipping and Trading

COFC (Container on Flatcar)

COFC means the practice of loading a container onto a flatcar without chassis for long-distance transport.

What is COFC (Container on Flatcar) in Railway Transportation?

Container on Flatcar (COFC) is a term used in the intermodal transportation industry to describe the practice of transporting shipping containers on a flatcar (a type of rail car). This method is part of the intermodal transport system, which involves multiple modes of transportation, such as rail, road, and sea, to move goods in containers without handling the cargo itself when changing modes.

Key Characteristics of COFC

1. Intermodal Efficiency:

COFC is an integral part of intermodal transportation, providing seamless transition between different transport modes, such as from ship to rail or rail to truck.

2. Standardization:

Shipping containers used in COFC operations are standardized (e.g., ISO containers), ensuring compatibility with various transport and handling equipment.

3. Flatcar Design:

Flatcars used for COFC are specially designed to carry containers. They have minimal superstructure, providing a flat deck that accommodates one or more containers.

4. Double-Stacking:

Many COFC operations utilize double-stack flatcars, where containers are stacked two high, maximizing the use of railcar space and increasing efficiency.

5. Load Flexibility:

COFC can carry different sizes of containers (20-foot, 40-foot, 45-foot, etc.), offering flexibility in the types and volumes of cargo that can be transported.

Advantages of COFC

1. Cost Efficiency:

Rail transport is generally more cost-effective than road transport for long distances, making COFC a cost-efficient option for shippers.

2. Environmental Benefits:

Rail transport produces lower greenhouse gas emissions per ton-mile compared to road transport, making COFC a more environmentally friendly option.

3. High Capacity:

Trains can carry a large number of containers simultaneously, providing high-capacity transport solutions that reduce congestion on roads.

4. Security and Safety:

Containers transported via COFC are securely locked and sealed, reducing the risk of theft or damage compared to other modes of transport.

5. Reduced Handling:

Containers remain sealed and intact from the origin to the destination, minimizing handling and reducing the risk of cargo damage.

Disadvantages of COFC

1. Infrastructure Dependency:

COFC operations rely on the availability of rail infrastructure, which may not be present in all regions, especially in remote or less-developed areas.

2. Transit Time:

Rail transport can be slower than road transport, especially for short distances, potentially affecting delivery times for time-sensitive shipments.

3. Intermodal Transfers:

The process of transferring containers between different modes (e.g., from rail to truck) can introduce delays and additional handling costs.

4. Routing Flexibility:

Rail networks have fixed routes and schedules, which may not offer the same level of flexibility as road transport for certain shipments.

Example Scenario

A company in the Midwest United States needs to ship electronics from their manufacturing facility to a distribution center on the West Coast. They choose to use COFC for part of the journey.


1. The company loads the electronics into standardized containers at the manufacturing facility.
2. The containers are transported by truck to the nearest intermodal rail terminal.
3. At the terminal, the containers are loaded onto flatcars for the rail journey.
4. The train transports the containers across the country to a rail terminal near the West Coast distribution center.
5. Upon arrival, the containers are transferred from the flatcars to trucks for final delivery to the distribution center.


1. The company benefits from cost savings due to the efficiency of rail transport over long distances.
2. The use of double-stack flatcars maximizes the volume of cargo transported.
3. The company reduces its carbon footprint by opting for rail transport.


Container on Flatcar (COFC) is a vital component of the intermodal transportation system, offering an efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly way to move goods over long distances. By leveraging the strengths of rail transport and the standardized nature of shipping containers, COFC provides shippers with a reliable and secure method to transport their goods across regions. Despite certain limitations, such as dependency on rail infrastructure and potential transit times, the benefits of COFC make it a preferred choice for many in the logistics and supply chain industry.