Demand for marine containers grew faster in this year’s first quarter than for domestic intermodal containers or trailers, the Intermodal Association of North America said.
International volume of boxes moving by rail — mostly shipments moving in 40- or 20-foot ocean containers along with some 45-footers — increased 9.6 percent in the January-March period compared to the same time last year, to 1,755,301 units, IANA said.
Shipments of all types and sizes of domestic boxes grew 8.4 percent to 1,536,990 units. This included an 8.8 percent gain in container moves, while trailer loadings onto railcars increased 7.5 percent. IANA said intermodal moves of 53-foot trailers surged 21.7 percent in the quarter for the strongest gain since 2005.
In all, IANA said North American railroads saw a 9 percent first quarter rise in intermodal traffic.
Domestic business is dominated by 53-foot containers and trailers. Since the end of the recession, some of the growth for those larger domestic containers had resulted, until recently, from the transloading of marine cargoes at the sea coasts into the larger boxes for inland shipment, so the smaller ocean containers could be quickly restaged as empties for the trip back to Asia. IANA said transloads did not drive domestic traffic in the first quarter.
Instead, the group credited fast-rising fuel prices with pushing more loads to rail and away from higher-cost trucking for the long-haul portion of the trip. Meanwhile, IANA said strong retail demand from a strengthening consumer sector pulled in more international containerized imports.