Total intermodal shipments increased 4.6 percent in 2013 to 15.5 million containers and trailers (of all sizes) and were up 7 percent in the fourth quarter to just shy of 4 million containers and trailers, said the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA).
Domestic container volume — which doubled over the past 10 years — outperformed other types of intermodal moves in 2013, up 9.4 percent for the year to 6.1 million containers, and up 9 percent in the fourth quarter to 1.6 million containers.
Movement of ISO containers was up 2.3 percent to 7.8 million units in 2013, and up 5.9 percent to nearly 2 million units for the fourth quarter.
Movement of trailers was flat at 1.6 million in 2013, and up 4.7 percent to 426,868 in the fourth quarter.
“This has been a banner year and quarter for intermodal, underscoring the strong alternative it provides to over-the-road transport,” said Joni Casey, president and chief executive officer of IANA. “All markets performed exceptionally well during the fourth quarter, with both international and intermodal trailers recording their best improvement in years."
According to IANA, "International intermodal continued its comeback from previous quarters. Due to depressed Q4 2012 loadings, a bump in international containers was expected, but this quarter’s uptick was enough to suggest a trend rather than easy year-over-year comparisons."
The increase in trailer movements in the fourth quarter was "particularly impressive," IANA said, "nearly reversing exceptionally slow performance in the first part of the year."
Of the seven largest volume corridors within the United States, the Midwest-Southwest was the clear winner; the lane expanded a notable 12.9 percent when compared with the fourth quarter of 2012. The intra-Southeast also beat industry expectations due to a marked domestic container boost. Overall, key corridor growth rose 5.9 percent during the quarter.
IANA said the stats echo comments in a recently-released white paper, Ten Years After: The Second Intermodal Revolution
, sponsored by IANA and the Association of American Railroads, which found intermodal has become an accepted shipper choice for both international and domestic goods movement and is currently the largest rail commodity by revenue.
Anthony Hatch, the author of the report, credits intermodal with allowing rails to move back up the value chain, driving the “Railroad Renaissance,” and predicts intermodal’s success is still in the “early innings stage.”