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Preliminary data from IANA points to solid volume gains in 2014

While the official numbers won’t be issued until early February in its quarterly Market Trends & Statistics report, preliminary data for the fourth quarter and full-year 2014 intermodal output from the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) indicates that annual growth was intact.

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While the official numbers won’t be issued until early February in its quarterly Market Trends & Statistics report, preliminary data for the fourth quarter and full-year 2014 intermodal output from the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) indicates that annual growth was intact.

For all of 2014, total intermodal units, which are comprised of trailers, domestic containers, all domestic equipment, and ISO containers, were up 4.8 percent compared to 2013 at 16,276,892. 

Domestic containers again had the largest annual percentage gain at 6,444,532 in 2014, which represented a 5.7 percent annual gain. This does not come as a major surprise as domestic container volumes have seen annual gains in every quarter going back to the third quarter of 2005. IANA said in 2014 that volumes have subsequently more than doubled during this period, which, in turn, makes the case for the ongoing growth rate softening to a degree.

What’s more, domestic intermodal gains, based on IANA data, have been a model of consistency, averaging about 6 percent a quarter over a 24-month period through August 2014. This growth has been paced by things like tight highway capacity, driver availability, congestion, and highway to rail conversion, too.

Trailers were up 2.9 percent in 2014 at 1,666,350, and all domestic equipment was up 5.1 percent at 8,110,882.

ISO––or international¬¬––containers were up 4.4 percent over 2013 at 8,166,010. Leading up to the fourth quarter and year-end, international growth was driven to an extent by shippers moving more freight earlier in the year as a result of an improving economy and a “rebound effect” from the winter of 2013-2014.

For the fourth quarter, IANA reported its preliminary data month-by-month, rather than cumulatively, which is how it is presented in its quarterly Market Trends & Statistics report.

For October, trailers were up 1.2 percent at 146,741; domestic containers were up 4.1 percent at 603,430; all domestic equipment was up 3.5 percent at 750,171; and ISO containers were up 3.6 percent at 733,511. Total October volume was up 3.5 percent at 1,483,682.

Trailers were down 2.0 in November at 134,894; domestic containers were up 0.1 percent at 534,714; all domestic equipment was down 0.3 percent at 534,714; and ISO container were off 3.6 percent at 615,575. Total November volume was down 1.9 percent at 1,285,183.

And in December trailers were up 1.0 percent at 145,680; domestic containers were up 11.7 percent at 534,188; all domestic equipment was up 9.3 percent at 679,868; and ISO containers were up 6.2 percent at 662,668. Total December volume was up 7.7 percent at 1,342,536.

IANA President and CEO Joni Casey said that December’s bump in volume was most likely based on traffic in the pipeline, and pent-up demand, adding that based on the November numbers and the last minute holiday gift surge, international numbers seem to mirror current conditions on the West Coast, but she said that cannot be verified until IANA’s final corridor/lane analysis is finished (and will appear in next week’s report).

As for lower fuel prices, which have dropped significantly in recent weeks, Casey said that the price drop has had little, if any, impact on domestic intermodal volumes.

“Year-end volumes are on track with previous predictions of where we would end up,” said Casey.

Earlier this month, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) also reported healthy intermodal volume growth, with 2014 volumes up 5.2 percent over 2013 at 13,496,941, which set a new annual record, topping 2013’s 12,831,692.

The AAR pointed out that this growth was significant, when considering intermodal service through much of 2014 was impacted by bad weather, congestion, and increased demand.

And it added that this annual tally reflects a consistent them echo ed by the AAR that it is much more cost effective to move rail intermodal shipments in containers than in trailers, largely because containers can be double-stacked and are easier to load onto and take off a railroad flat car than trailers.

Tony Hatch, principal of New York-based ABH Consulting, said that intermodal service is likely to slowly recover in the coming months.

“Intermodal was up more than 5 percent last year while rail velocity declined,” he said. “Part of that is because intermodal shippers are becoming more sophisticated in locking in more capacity and they know service will get better. Rails are ahead of where they thought they would be right now in terms of service recovery, if this continues through the spring they will be able to put it fully behind them and back on track.”


About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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