ILWU diversions help push Canadian intermodal volume to record high

ILWU diversions help push Canadian intermodal volume to record high

Intermodal volume on U.S. railroads is up 5.7 percent year-over-year in the first 35 weeks of 2014.

The scope of U.S. shippers’ diversion of cargo through western Canadian ports can be seen in August intermodal statistics, showing Canadian intermodal traffic last week outpacing U.S. traffic gains and hitting an all-time record.

Canadian intermodal volume jumped 13.1 percent year-over-year last week to 63,880 units, according to a report from the American Association of Railroads. Canadian intermodal volume so far this year is up 7.2 percent over 2013 traffic.

U.S. intermodal volume rose 5.3 percent to 273,458 units last week, the second-most weekly volume ever handled on the network. U.S. intermodal volume expanded 4.3 percent year-over-year in August, pushing year-to-date volume up 5.7 percent over the same period in 2013.

Shippers who usually move containers through U.S. West Coast ports have, in the past several months, diverted cargo to the U.S. East Coast, as well as west coast Canadian ports, in fear of getting caught up in slowdowns during negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association. Despite the continuing uncertainty, negotiations between the ILWU and PMA, which represents U.S. West Coast marine terminal operators, have so far been calm, in stark contrast to 2002 and 2008, the last times that West Coast longshore agreements were negotiated.

Containerized imports in July through western Canada’s major two ports — Metro Vancouver and Prince Rupert — rose 14.3 percent year-over-year, according to port statistics. Total volume at the two ports was up 5.5 percent in July from June.

Canadian carload volume last week rose 4.2 percent year-over-year to 84,974 carloads, while   U.S. carload traffic last week increased 1.3 percent in the same period to 305,741 carloads. The steady increased in carload volume is hampering some railroads’ ability to reduce cargo backlogged during the winter and restore intermodal network fluidity.

Mexican rail volumes showed small growth, up 0.7 percent this week to 15,659 carloads. Intermodal units, however, were up 11.9 percent over last week to 12,926. The jump marks the highest week-to-week change since April and puts total traffic for this year up 14.7 percent over the same period in 2013.

Contact Corianne Egan at cegan@joc.com and follow her on Twitter: @CEgan_JOC.