U.S. domestic intermodal growth slackened slightly as the economy slowed in the second quarter, but the transport of international containers on the rails has its healthiest showing in the period since 2008, according to the Intermodal Association of North America.
Domestic intermodal volume rose 12.5 percent year-over-year in the second quarter, a slight deceleration from the 14.9 percent growth in traffic seen in the first quarter. Still, the second quarter was the third straight quarter of double-digit growth.
International traffic increased 3.9 percent between April and June from the same period in 2011, a significant improvement from the 2.9 percent growth seen in the first quarter. Total intermodal traffic rose 5.2 percent in the second quarter and is up 5.5 percent in the first half of 2012.
“I would characterize the state of the industry as ‘steady as she goes,’ ” IANA CEO and President Joni Casey said.
She said the industry is not seeing the historical peaks in volume, and instead is experiencing steady volume growth through the year. Intermodal rail volume accounts for roughly 10 to 15 percent of all U.S. surface transportation moves, and the sectors make us about a quarter of rail traffic.
“From the (first quarter) to (the second quarter) seasonally adjusted domestic volumes registered a scant 0.1 percent gain, the smallest in over three years,” the report said.
Unless there is a major U.S. economic slowdown, IANA said intermodal volume will grow 5 to 6 percent in 2012 from the previous year. The IANA reports comes after U.S. intermodal volume hauled by major railroads in July hit an all-time record.
Intermodal train speeds improved in the first half of the year, with the average train running at 32 mph so far in 2012 compared with 31 mph in the same period in 2011. Terminal dwell times have fallen to a point near the lows experienced when volume plummeted during the recession.
Shippers continued to shift away from using trailers, with volume carried by the equipment down 10.2 percent year-over-year in the second half. The usage of 40- and 45-foot trailers saw the sharpest decline, as loads using the equipment plummeted 34.8 percent in the same period.