IANA said the seven highest-density trade corridors that account for 62.6 percent of total intermodal volume and that volumes along those lanes were up collectively 5.1 percent in the fourth quarter over the same period a year earlier. Growth in the fourth quarter amounted to:
• 9.7 in the South Central-Southwest corridor,
• 9.4 percent in the intra-Southeast corridor,
• 7 percent in the Southeast-Southwest corridor,
• 5.7 percent in the Northeast-Midwest corridor,
• 0.9 percent in the Trans-Canada corridor.
Roughly two-thirds of the domestic container fleet is owned by companies such as J.B. Hunt, Schneider National, Swift Transportation, Hub Group and UPS, while about a third is owned by railroads and marketed by intermodal marketing companies (IMCs), said Larry Gross, the president of Gross Transportation Consulting and a leading analyst of the intermodal industry.
IANA noted that following growth in the first three quarters of 2018, IMC volumes fell in the fourth quarter for the first time since the first quarter of 2017.
Gross said this indicates that the extreme shortage of trucks experienced earlier last year is waning.
Last year was “all about capacity” in the intermodal industry, he said. “If you had capacity available then you could easily fill it” and growth by intermodal companies was limited by railroad service issues that reduced equipment velocity.
Trucking companies have hired more drivers and he believes this year will see intermodal companies and trucking companies competing more on the basis of service and cost, not just the availability of capacity.
Strong growth in the Northwest-Midwest corridor reflects increased intermodal traffic between the ports of Seattle and Tacoma and the Midwest, he said.
In the Southeast, ports are moving more cargo by rail and have opened new inland ports, for example those opened last year by Georgia Ports Authority in Chatsworth, near the Tennessee border and the South Carolina Ports Authority in Dillon, S.C.