International Rail

International Rail

Intermodal freight transport involves the transportation of freight in an intermodal container or vehicle, using multiple modes of transportation (e.g., rail, ship, and truck), without any handling of the freight itself when changing modes. This results in lower cargo-handling costs while improving security, and reducing damages and losses. 

 Intermodal rail — the transportation of shipping containers and truck trailers by rail — enables railroads to provide their customers with cost-effective, environmentally friendly service for almost anything that can be loaded into a truck or a container. Shippers benefit from the flexible service that trucks provide, at the competitive rates that only rail intermodal can offer. The general public benefits from a reduction in highway congestion and harmful emissions and from the reduced cost of moving goods to market via intermodal. 

 Starting with the advent of the modern shipping container in the 1950s, freight railroads in the US have invested heavily to build a world-class intermodal rail network. Rail-owned, US domestic containers comprise nearly one-third of the total domestic container population. 

 The vast bulk of these containers have been in two fleets: 

EMP, a domestic interline container program created by Union Pacific Railroad and Norfolk Southern Railway; and UMAX, a domestic interline container program created by CSX Intermodal and Union Pacific, which provides customers access to thousands of 53-foot containers for intermodal marketing companies, motor carriers, freight brokers, truckload, parcel, and less-than-truckload customers.

 The remaining two-thirds of the fleet are privately owned units, operated by such companies as J.B. Hunt, Hub Group, and the like. The rail-owned fleets cater to non-asset carriers, while the private fleets are typically operated by integrated intermodal carriers.

New and expanded intermodal terminals at ports and inland are using advanced technologies to transfer containers to and from trucks in minutes. Additional track capacity and advanced signaling systems allow for faster, more frequent intermodal trains. Bridge and tunnel improvements accommodate the additional height required by double-stack trains.

Timely JOC coverage of this sector provides the latest news, data and analysis about how such developments are affecting not only the intermodal rail sector itself, but also impacting shippers, transportation service providers and other stakeholders in the US and elsewhere around the world.

Commentary

On the surface, China’s Asia-Europe rail subsidies seem like a slam-dunk win for shippers, a free lunch. But as the axiom states, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” And that axiom applies to international shipping as well.

News & Analysis

24 Jun 2020
Carriers are shaking off some of their pessimism for this year, with more rosy outlooks and improved expectations emerging as the demand-challenged second quarter draws to a close.
24 Jun 2020
The turmoil unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic has barely subsided, evidenced by numerous reports of service failures that continue to come in from stakeholders throughout the food supply chain.
24 Jun 2020
The sixth episode of JOC Uncharted features a one-on-one conversation with Hapag-Lloyd CEO Rolf Habben Jansen, and discussion on how Mexico trade is being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
24 Jun 2020
Oil price volatility and the related pullback on capital investment is affecting cargo volumes, primarily on the onshore oil and gas side; offshore effects will take longer to flow through the project supply chain.
23 Jun 2020
Now that a number of terminals in Southern California have super-post-Panamax cranes, terminal operators say container lines feel more confident in deploying mega-ships on their Pacific Southwest services.
23 Jun 2020
BNSF Railway has unveiled a five-day per week train service between Seattle and CSX’s Ohio hub about an hour south of Toledo.
23 Jun 2020
The pandemic-inspired shift to online shopping will have lasting effects on shippers’ transportation choices, according to the CSCMP State of Logistics Report.
23 Jun 2020
Volume at the Port of Virginia’s inland port in Richmond has jumped this year because it serves BCOs who have thrived during the pandemic amid limited restaurant options and a rise in e-commerce orders.
23 Jun 2020
While the urgent demand for medical supplies is waning and air freight rates are coming off record highs in May, market fundamentals are likely to keep prices above last year’s levels.
22 Jun 2020
Carriers’ container volumes in the US-Asia trades declined in the first four months of 2020 and are expected to remain below last year’s volumes through the peak season.
22 Jun 2020
While food service and the retail grocery sectors adapt to new pandemic-linked realities, consumers’ food preferences remain unchanged.
22 Jun 2020
The latest federal funds for the Port of Houston will go to restoring 2,700 linear feet of wharf and upgrading 84 acres of yard space at Barbours Cut Terminal.
22 Jun 2020
Carriers should end the year in the black despite the impact of COVID-19 on volumes, believes Sea-Intelligence, provided the capacity discipline shown so far continues and they avoid chasing market share.
22 Jun 2020
Select blank sailings on the East Coast South America-Asia trade come as currency devaluations by both Brazil and Argentina are boosting exports to Asia, particularly of reefer cargoes, fueling an imbalance in container volumes.
19 Jun 2020
Data2Logistics has been struggling through a system outage this week that is leaving its shipper customers unable to pay carriers through its platform.
19 Jun 2020
Steady exports so far this year mean containerized US resin, an important backhaul cargo for ocean carriers, could see slight growth this year.
19 Jun 2020
HMM will be switching from BNSF Railway to Union Pacific Railroad in August, a move that allows it to prioritize efficient inland movement of containers within THE Alliance.
19 Jun 2020
Demand for distribution centers and warehouses in Asia is set to climb as firms reappraise supply chains, increase inventories, and diversify into other countries after the disruption caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
19 Jun 2020
Despite seeing record turn times in Los Angeles-Long Beach, truckers say they are struggling with operational inefficiencies caused by more than 60 blank sailings this year.
19 Jun 2020
Disciplined capacity management and price increases are strengthening the Asia-Europe spot market, lifting rates on both westbound and eastbound routes well above last year’s levels.
18 Jun 2020
Payroll Protection Program loans could keep struggling small trucking companies in business, and prevent a truck capacity crunch shippers fear — if enough carriers apply for them.
18 Jun 2020
Moving refrigerated perishables by rail provides logistics providers with untapped market share potential if they can wade through a number of challenges, mostly linked to service.
18 Jun 2020
Former INTTRA executive said shipping lines, 3PLs, and shippers could learn from the way retailers and their suppliers have set up data-sharing arrangements to provide mutual benefit.
18 Jun 2020
Softening demand for medical supplies as some countries build inventory and get on top of coronavirus infections has reduced the urgency of shipments and cut air cargo rates in half since mid-May.
18 Jun 2020
The automotive restart has encountered headwinds, as uneven timings of plant re-openings have created trade imbalances and factories have reduced their production capacities due to a lack of access to parts, while consumer demand remains a key unknown.
17 Jun 2020
Long-standing issues at Los Angeles–Long Beach involving the return of empty containers, terminal gate closures, and shift cancelations have gotten worse this year as carriers blanked dozens of sailings owing to the economic impact of COVID-19.
17 Jun 2020
The fifth episode of JOC Uncharted features a one-on-one conversation with Inna Kuznetsova, CEO of 1010Data; and discussion on container lines’ financial stability and West Coast port automation.
17 Jun 2020
Maersk said it expected the slightly milder volume decline would result in Q2 operating earnings “slightly above” its first-quarter 2020 results and better than its second-quarter 2019 performance.
17 Jun 2020
The financial hand being extended to carriers struggling with a devastating decline in demand and an uncertain recovery is mostly in the form of state guaranteed loans rather than direct bailouts.
17 Jun 2020
The domestic supply chain is a perfect example of a sector that is in dire need of fortification, and it needs to begin with small, over-the-road carriers, the CEO of Transfix says.
17 Jun 2020
The importance of being able to speed up or slow down container shipments was driven home during the coronavirus disruption, but the option is likely to grow in importance for shippers.
17 Jun 2020
Dismissing writs filed by BCO groups, an appeals court in New Delhi ruled that government advisories on extended free time and penalty waivers were more in the form of general advice rather than a binding directive.
17 Jun 2020
Ports in southeast Asia need to upgrade their terminal capacity in order to handle the expected shift in sourcing away from China that is being triggered by COVID-19 supply chain disruptions.
16 Jun 2020
Port Tampa Bay has received almost $20 million in a federal grant to help construct a second 1,300-foot berth and a 30-acre container yard, key elements of its plan to increase capacity to handle three Asian direct services.
16 Jun 2020
This month’s seasonal burst of truck freight shipping is expected to fade after Independence Day, putting more pressure on small trucking operators struggling to stay on the road.