North American intermodal traffic surged in 2004
Intermodal traffic in North America reached new record levels last year, with a fourth-quarter rise of 9.6 percent and annual growth of 8.6 percent, led by above-average growth in international containers, the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) reported.
Total fourth quarter intermodal volume amounted to 3.3 million units (containers or trailers), up from 3 million in 2003. IANA said intermodal volume has increased for 11 consecutive quarters.
ISO international containers increased 15.2 percent in the latest quarter to 1.6 million units. Intermodal traffic of domestic trailers increased 6.6 percent to about 672,000 units in the fourth quarter, making fourth quarter trailer volume its highest in five years. By contrast, the number of domestic containers rose just 0.6 percent to about 789,000 units in the latest quarter.
Domestic containers weakened from an already slow third-quarter increase, posting their lowest growth rate since IANA began reporting intermodal statistics in 1996. “A number of factors seemed to drive domestic container weakness, including port congestion and port diversions that may have slowed transloading, tight domestic container supply, and possibly increasing lengths of haul,” IANA said.
For the full year, total North American intermodal volume increased to a record 12.9 million units, from 11.8 million in 2003, with strong growth in international containers and moderate increases in domestic container traffic.
But IANA warned of a predicted slowdown in intermodal growth this year. “Even with a strong year-end finish, most forecasts still expect some moderation in intermodal growth this year,” it said.
“International equipment volume should continue to serve as the foundation for continued intermodal growth in 2005 and beyond,” IANA predicted. The slowdown of domestic intermodal growth in the second half of 2004 — particularly weak domestic container volume — “adds an area of caution to the 2005 outlook.”
However, IANA expects domestic demand for rail intermodal service to continue to grow in 2005.