Intermodal volume increased 9% year-over-year in Q1 2011 as international volume grew for the fifth straight quarter, posting a solid 9.6% uptick, according to a report released May 12 by the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA). IANA’s Intermodal Market Trends & Statistics report also notes that overall domestic intermodal volume also increased during the quarter by 8.4%.
International gains were propelled by continued strength in imports as retail sales and consumer spending improved in Q1 2011. Domestic volumes also continued to increase, with trailer loads rising 7.5%—the fourth consecutive quarter of gains for trailers. Most notable is that 53-foot trailer loads posted a 21.7% gain, the best performance for this category since Q1 2005. Rapidly rising diesel fuel prices may have helped shift some over-the-road volume to rail during the quarter.
Domestic container volume rose 8.8%, only slightly below Q4 2010’s 8.9% climb. Unlike some recent quarters, gains were not driven by transloaded international freight. The most significant domestic container growth came from the Southeast (16.7%), followed by the South Central (15.5%) and Northeast (14.4%) regions. The Southwest and Western Canada regions—both centers of international freight transloading by rail—posted below-average increases during Q1 2011.
Intermodal volume forecasts by some analysts project overall gains of 6%–8% in 2011, indicating this should be a good year for all intermodal markets, especially as year-over-year comparisons bump up against the strong gains of late 2010.