While North American rail hauls of intermodal equipment fell 14.6 percent in 2009 to 11,670,350 units, largely due to a shrinking ocean container market, the biggest part of the domestic rail-truck business managed to grow.
The Intermodal Association of North America said domestic container shipments grew 2.9 percent last year to 3,960,480 units. That was partly because more shippers embraced the efficiency of large 53-foot containers, but also because demand for goods that could be supplied from other parts of the continent held up better than demand for imports brought in by ships.
One of those making an intentional equipment shift was Schneider National. The U.S. truckload and intermodal carrier recently said it completed a multi-year program that switched out thousands of its intermodal units to those containers, which can ride double-stacked for long hauls on trains, from truck trailers that have their chassis attached and must sit one to a railcar.
“Although total volume is dramatically off from prior years’ activities we are encouraged that domestic volumes, driven by 53-ft. containers, have risen close to 3 percent. We expect domestic container activity to increase throughout 2010,” said Thomas J. Malloy, IANA’s vice president for member services and communications.
Overall, combined container and trailer loads in the domestic-only markets fell 5.8 percent to 5,565,035 shipments. Trailer use shrank by 22.1 percent to 1,604,555 units, IANA said.
The biggest driver behind the 14.6 percent drop for intermodal last year came from the largest equipment category of international-rated containers, which include all those used in ocean trade lanes. IANA said international box moves fell 21.2 percent to 6,105,315 units, for a decline of 1,644,454.
That makes the single-year fall in international container moves greater than the number of trailers used in domestic intermodal service during 2009. “Regaining international volumes will continue to present a challenge in 2010,” Malloy said.
But he noted that international traffic has also been improving in recent months, so much that “late 2009 import and export volume declines moderated to just slightly below 2008” levels.
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