Intermodal Volumes On the Rise in 2011

Intermodal volume increased 9% year-over-year in Q1 2011 as international volume grew for the fifth-straight quarter, according to the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA). Overall domestic intermodal volume also increased during the quarter by 8.4%.

International gains were propelled by continued strength in imports as retail sales and consumer spending improved in Q1 2011. Domestic volumes also continued to increase, with trailer loads rising 7.5% – the fourth-consecutive quarter of gains for trailers.

Most notable is that 53-foot trailer loads posted a substantial 21.7% gain, the best performance for this category since Q1 2005, according to IANA. Rapidly rising diesel fuel prices may have helped shift some over-the-road volume to rail during the quarter.

Domestic container volume increased 8.8%, only slightly below Q4 2010’s 8.9% rise. Unlike some recent quarters, gains were not driven by transloaded international freight. The most significant domestic container growth came from the Southeast (16.7%), followed by the South Central (15.5%) and the Northeast (14.4%) regions. The Southwest and Western Canada regions – both centers of international freight transloading by rail – posted below average increases during Q1 2011.

Intermodal volume forecasts by some analysts project overall gains of 6%–8% in 2011, indicating that this should be a good year for all intermodal markets, especially as year-over-year comparisons bump-up against the strong gains of late 2010.

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