The year 2021 managed to be the second-best year for U.S. intermodal volumes, with year-over-year gains in the first half of 2021 offsetting volume losses in the second half of the year, according to data from the Association of American Railroads.
U.S. intermodal traffic totaled 14.1 million intermodal units in 2021, which was 4.9% higher than 2020, according to AAR.
“A record-setting first half gave way to a lower second half as supply chain challenges persisted. Still, 2021 was the second-best U.S. intermodal year ever, behind only 2018,” AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray said Wednesday.
E-commerce may have lifted intermodal volumes in the first half of the year, but in the second half of the year, labor and equipment shortages contributed to lower intermodal volumes as the railroads struggled to keep pace with the heightened activity.
“The intermodal network continues to be strained, which has negatively affected turn times and velocity,” said Jason Seidl, transportation director for investment firm Cowen, in a Thursday note about fourth-quarter 2021 volumes and equity share estimates.
Although intermodal volumes trended downward year-over-year in the second half of 2021, U.S. carload volumes in 2021 were consistently higher than 2020 volumes but lower than 2019 volumes, according to FreightWaves SONAR.
Indeed, U.S. carload traffic was 6.6% higher in 2021, totaling 12 million carloads, amid gains for coal, metals and chemicals, among other commodities.
“On the carload side, chemicals set a new annual record and grain had its best year since 2008,” Gray said.
“Coal carloads were up substantially because of sharply higher natural gas prices, while carloads of motor vehicles suffered as microchip shortages forced automakers to cut output,” Gray said.
U.S. rail volumes combined totaled nearly 26.2 million carloads and intermodal units, a 5.7% increase from 2020.
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