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Intermodal volumes finish Q4 and 2013 strong, reports IANA

New white paper sponsored by IANA and AAR points to future success for the mode
By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
February 10, 2014

Intermodal transportation continued to gain in traction in 2013, according to the recent release of the Intermodal Market Trends & Statistics report from the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA).

Total 2013 intermodal volume—at 15,537,925—was up 4.6 percent compared to 2012. Domestic containers—at 6,094,770 million—was up 9.4 percent, and international containers—at 7,823,122 million—were up 1.2 percent. All domestic equipment at 7,714,803 million—was up 7.1 percent, and trailers fell 0.7 percent to 1,620,033 million.

For the fourth quarter, total volume—at 3,989,715—was up 7.0 percent compared to 2012. Domestic containers were up 9.0 percent at 1,591,799 million, and international containers—at 1,971,048 million—were up 5.9 percent. All domestic equipment was up 8.0 percent at 2,018,667 million, and trailers declined 4.7 percent to 426,868.

IANA officials noted that the strong performance in the domestic container segment has doubled in the last ten years and again led all intermodal groups it tracks. They added international and trailers both finishing the year strong, showing their best improvements in years. International containers shined even with a fairly easily comparison to a weak 2012, and IANA said that the strong output in the fourth quarter might portend a trend instead of a generous annual comparison.

While the growth rates are impressive, industry experts maintain that these strong domestic container intermodal volumes are due in large part to freight coming out of intermodal trailers into trailers or from one box to another, coupled with the fact that the gross number of intermodal loadings—both domestic and container—were higher in 2006 than in 2012 as was gross GDP and industrial production. What’s more, during that same period the number of truckloads moved and truck tonnage volume is larger than intermodal.

IANA President and CEO Joni Casey told LM that there were various drivers for the late year surge in intermodal volume and performance, including continuing tight highway capacity, bad weather, pushing more freight to rail, a compressed holiday season, and higher e-commerce related sales that required additional capacity.

And with domestic intermodal continuing to be the lead intermodal growth driver, Casey said it is reasonable to expect more of the same. 

“It certainly looks like it based on trends of last three years,” she said. “Domestic intermodal volumes have outgrown international at a more than 2:1 ratio over that time.”

As for international volumes, which were solid in the fourth quarter, Casey observed that international volumes have increase in five of the last six months, while levels of monthly increases have fluctuated by as much as 5.5 percent.

“The encouraging sign is that international intermodal shipments are showing growth during the last half of the year vs. losses. The rate of growth in 2014 remains to be seen.” 

New Intermodal White Paper: In conjunction with this report is the release of “Ten Years After: The Second Intermodal Revolution,” a white paper released by IANA and the Association of American Railroads and written by Anthony B. Hatch, an independent railroad analyst and principal of New York-based ABH Consulting. 

This wide-ranging white paper is a follow-up to a 2002 piece penned by Hatch and Thomas R. Brown, president of Union Pacific’s Streamline group, entitled “The Value of Intermodal to the U.S. Economy.”

The new release by Hatch succinctly makes the ongoing case for intermodal, explaining it is more commonly becoming a “go to” mode for shippers for international and domestic goods movement, coupled with being the largest rail commodity according to revenue. 

And it also touches up various facets of the intermodal growth story, with Hatch explaining that the drivers for the mode’s increased traction are things like vastly improved operations, improving modal competitive scenarios, and public policy implications, while cautioning that is market share and growth potential, or volumes and contribution, are still in the early innings.

Hatch told LM there are various takeaways of this white paper for industry stakeholders.

“The privately financed rail network is competitive or an overall advantage versus troubled, publicly-financed other sources of infrastructure,” he said. “Smart shippers are not just looking for something where they can save money on all lanes but also to the future where intermodal might be the only source of reliable capacity. These issues are driven by government infrastructure spend, lack of a new highway bill or a funding mechanism, driver shortages exacerbated by government regulations, and fuel prices.”

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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