Major U.S. railroads handled a record number of intermodal containers in 2011, with a strong push late in the year that gave the industry a 6 percent gain in volume over 2010, according to the Association of American Railroads.
Overall intermodal traffic for the Class I railroads grew 5.4 percent for the year as truck trailer edged up only 2.2 percent over the previous year. That segment remains more than 40 percent below the level reached in 2005 and barely half what the railroads hauled in the mid-1990s.
Intermodal container volume, which grew 16.1 percent in 2010, is picking up the slack, although the 11.9 million overall intermodal loads originated in 2011 was still about 2.3 million fewer loads the AAR reported for the U.S. railroads in the peak year of 2006. Container loads reached just under 10.2 million loads last year, the AAR said, adding about 573,000 loads over the previous year.
The intermodal business has been maintaining its momentum through the holiday period, likely helped by a restocking from retailers in advance of an early Lunar New Year that will see Chinese factories shut down later this month. Intermodal volume for the Class I carriers grew 8.6 percent in the last week of the year, including a 9.9 percent increase in container loads.