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What is the slowest means of transportation

March 29, 2022

what is the slowest means of transportation

What is the slowest means of transportation? N​o matter what business you’re in, you’re going to be dealing with a lot of transportation. It’s ubiquitous- everyone has to transport something, somewhere, sometime. People tend to assume that the fastest method of transport is always best, but that may not be the case.

T​ransport costs have risen sharply in recent years, and they’re only going to get higher. The faster the means of transportation, the more expensive it is. So, more and more people are asking: what is the slowest means of transportation?

I​t may seem counterintuitive in a time when everyone is used to 2-day delivery and instant gratification. But many businesses are finding that slowing down their transportation is increasingly important. That means finding the slowest mode of transportation that will work for you.

W​hen To Use The Slowest Means of Transportation

F​ast shipping has been the goal of many logistics departments for decades now. One of the most reliable ways to outcompete other businesses has been to deliver your products faster then they can. As a result, logistics professionals often have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of using the slowest transportation methods.

I​t’s also true that we tend to equate efficiency with speed, and so we favor faster transport for this reason as well. But faster isn’t always better.
T​here are two very good reasons to consider using the slowest methods of transportation.

  1. You need to save money. The slowest transportation is a lot cheaper than faster transportation. There are a lot of reasons for this, but usually it’s because the slowest transport methods can often carry a lot more weight at once. Which allows them to transport more goods with each trip. And, since they move slower, they’re using fuel more efficiently.
  2. There’s no need to rush. Not every order needs to be shipped as quickly as possible. There are plenty of times when your buyer doesn’t need their product for a few weeks. Plus, if you can offer lower prices in exchange for slower shipping. You’ll probably find a lot of people are willing to make that exchange.
  3. W​e’re sure you can think of plenty of other scenarios in which the slowest transportation is a better choice, but these are the big two for most people. The point is, faster is not always better, and the slowest mode of transportation can be very beneficial in the right circumstances.
common means of transportation

T​he Most Common Means of Transportation

B​efore we talk about what the slowest means of transportation is, we have to discuss what the basic means of transportation are.

water transportation

W​ater transport is typically used to carry very heavy loads over very long distance. The most obvious examples are the big container ships used to ship goods overseas, and massive oil tankers. But waterborne transport has always been used as a reliable, efficient way to ship heavy goods.

M​any European countrysides are covered in a network of canals that date back to medieval times, or even earlier. Which been used to ship goods across the continent for centuries. In the US, you can still see smaller cargo ships carrying goods up and down major rivers like the Mississippi.

O​ne remarkable shipping route that uses waterborne transport is the Intracoastal Waterway. Which is essentially a giant canal stretching all along the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf Coast, allowing container ships, barges, and oil tankers to ship items. All along that side of the US without having to enter the open sea, saving dramatically on fuel costs.

train transportation

T​rains have been an efficient and reliable method of transportation for a long time now. Freight trains are still one of the most common means of shipping, but many people don’t realize it. That’s because freight trains tend to travel over the countryside. Through rural areas, and drop off or pick up cargo in big industrial areas that tend to be located on the edge of town.

S​ince they rarely travel through major cities, people tend to assume that freight trains are somewhat uncommon. But a whole lot of the items you have in your house were probably carried on a freight train at one point.

car transportation

T​his refers to trucking, as well as things like the postal service and various package delivery services that handle the last leg of a lot of shipping. Road shipping is used for shipping over medium or short distances, rather than the long distance shipping that rail and water shipping are better suited for.

air transportation

A​ir shipping uses cargo planes to deliver relatively smaller items, and it’s really only used when speed is of the essence. Electronic goods, perishable items, and emergency supplies for medical and disaster relief are some of the most common items shipped by air.


P​ipelines only work for liquids or gases, but they’re one of the most efficient means of transporting liquids and gases over long distances. They use minimal amounts of fuel to complete the transport, they’re low maintenance, and they can deliver a lot of product over a very long distance for very little cost. They are one of the slowest modes of transport. But they can only be used for liquids and they always rely on other means of transport to get the product from the pipeline to where it needs to go.
Pipelines are often connected with one of the other slowest modes of transportation: trains.


I​t’s very unusual for shipping to use only one means of transport. If an item is shipped overseas, then the most likely shipping method will look like this: its picked up at your warehouse on a truck (road). Which then carries it to a train depot (rail). The train will then take it to the nearest port. Where the container will be loaded onto a container ship (water). Then once the ship arrives at it’s destination, the process will be reversed: the container gets loaded onto a train which takes it to be picked up by a truck, which will deliver it to the buyer.

W​hat Is The Slowest Means Of Transportation?

W​hen you need to save money on your transportation costs, one of the easiest ways to cut back is to use one of the slowest means of transportation. Here are a few of the slowest, and therefore most affordable, means of transportation.


S​hipping by truck is really sort of a middle ground option. It can get expensive if you need to expedite the shipment, especially of the shipment less than a full truckload, or it can be quite affordable. If you’re willing to wait a bit longer, ship only full truckloads, or consolidate smaller shipments.

T​rucking is relatively economical and it’s very popular. It’s also convenient- there are plenty of places you can ship to via a truck that have no rail depot, no pipeline access, and no shipping access. It isn’t the slowest, but it can be a fairly slow, affordable means of transportation. It all depends on how you set it up.

P​lus, if you’re shipping over land and you aren’t shipping in bulk, a truck may be your only real option. That said, a truck, or any other method of shipping by road, is far from the slowest means of transportation.


T​rains are highly efficient because of the remarkable volume of goods they can carry at once. While they can reach fairly high speeds, it’s still one of the slowest modes of transportation.

That’s because it takes them much longer to speed up and to slow down, and it also takes them a lot longer to load and unload a train. So there’s more time spend on that phase of the operation.

P​lus, trains are used for long distance deliveries. And while passenger trains are often designed to get people from point A to point B as quickly as possible, freight trains are all about efficiency. That means they’re usually built to go at speeds that utilize their fuel most effectively, and speed is less of a concern.

I​n terms of shipping over land, trains are the slowest means of transportation. However, trains are only a good idea if you’re shipping in bulk and over long distances. That means they may not be suitable for every business. And, of course, rail is not the overall slowest means of transportation.


W​hen it comes to the slowest means of transport, nothing beats a big ship. There is absolutely no slower, cheaper method of shipping your goods than via literal shippping. That’s precisely why big container ships and oil tankers haven’t been replaced by fleets of delivery planes.

T​here’s simply no other means of transportation that can handle that much cargo, all at once, over such a long distance. If you’re looking for the slowest means of transportation, this is it. It’s not just about how long it takes the big ship to cross the ocean. It’s how long it takes for the containers to get transferred from the warehouses in the port to the ship, and vice versa. They are common for containers to sit in the port for weeks waiting to be loaded onto a ship.

O​bviously, this is not a means of trasnportation that any business can use. It’s only suitable for overseas and international shipping, and it’s best suited to heavy, bulk cargo. But if that’s what you’re shipping, this is without a doubt the slowest means of transportation.

H​onorable mention

T​here is one means of transportation that’s far, far slower than the rest, and we haven’t mentioned it yet because, well, it’s just not very common. But it is, technically, the slowest means of transportation available. We’re referring, or course, to the big, NASA crawlers.

A​lso called missile crawler transporters. These enormous vehicles are used to transport spacecraft from the vehicle assembly building to NASA’s launchpad. Because to the enormous weight of the vehicles they’re carrying, and the delicate nature of many of the components of those vehicles. These crawlers have to move at an unbelievably slow pace.

T​hey move at just 1 mile per hour when loaded. But when they’re unloaded, they can hit a speedy 2 miles per hour! They are the largest land vehicles in the world.

C​an Using Different Modes of Transport Slow It Down?

A​nytime something is being transported over great distances, odds are good more than one mode of transport will be used. Whether this slows down the transport (making it cheaper) or speeds it up all depends on your perspective.

I​f you’re shipping, say, a load of lumber across the continental US. It wouldn’t be too surprising if at least part of that trip was made on a train. Since trains are one of the slowest means of transportation. That would definitely be slower, and probably cheaper, than shipping via truck the whole way.

B​ut it could be seen the other way around- perhaps you would prefer to ship it by train all the way and you’re forced, for one reason or another, to put the shipment onto a truck for part of the trip. That’s going to speed it up and increase the overall cost, even though you’d still be using one of the slowest means of transport.

Still, more often than not using different modes of transport can slow down a shipment and save you some money.

W​hy are the slowest modes of transport more efficient/cheaper?

T​he slowest means of transport all use less fuel per unit of cargo than the fastest means of transport. That saves a lot of money on fuel costs. There’s also the fact that the slowest means of transport can carry a lot more cargo on one vehicle, which means fewer vehicles and fewer operators per unit of cargo.

O​ne gigantic cargo ship can carry thousands of truckloads of cargo with a crew of just a couple of dozen people. To carry all of that cargo by road would not only thousands of trucks, but thousands of truck drivers.

T​hat’s not an exaggeration, either- the largest cargo ships in the world today can each carry about 24,000 containers. One container is one truckload, so each of those cargo ships can carry as much cargo as 24,000 trucks! It may be one of the slowest means of transport around, but you definitely can’t beat that kind of efficiency.


W​hile the slowest mode of transport is the NASA crawler, the slowest mode of transportation that’s actually widely used is the cargo ship. These enormous ships don’t move fast, but they can carry so much cargo, and with such a small crew, that there’s never been a more efficient means of transportation in all of history.

T​rains are a close second, though. They’re a bit faster than cargo ships, and they can’t move as much cargo at once, and obviously they can only travel over land, but they’re a lot slower and more efficient than trucking or other methods of transport.

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