Despite network congestion and macro-economic headwinds, intermodal achieved solid growth in 2015, according to the Intermodal Association of North America. Domestic container gains more than offset declines in trailer volumes and marginal international increases to achieve overall 2.8% growth in total intermodal volumes.
“All things considered, intermodal performed well for the year,” said Joni Casey, CEO of IANA. “Even as fuel prices were dropping, domestic container volumes were picking up. This smoothed variations across segments, especially in the fourth quarter.”
The domestic container segment grew 5.2% in Q4. International shipments, which had been impacted by port congestion at the beginning of the year, fell 0.6% on high inventories and softer import growth. Fourth quarter trailer volumes dropped 15%. All told, intermodal eked out a 0.3% gain for the quarter.
The seven highest-density trade corridors, accounting for 66% of total intermodal volume, fell 0.2% in Q4 against the small industry gain. Growth rates for each individual corridor varied widely. The intra-Southeast corridor led with 9.7%, reflecting the strength of both international and domestic containers in that lane. Meanwhile, the South Central-Southwest corridor volumes decreased by an equal amount.
Intermodal marketing companies demonstrated clear growth in the highway sector during Q4, up by 11.4%, while intermodal loads remained flat. The net result was a volume increase of 4.8%. On an annual basis, highway loads increased 9.5% vs. 2.3% for the intermodal sector, with overall growth of 5.3%.