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Rail News: Intermodal

IANA report: Unprecedented volume growth makes 2004 memorable for North American intermodal industry

A fourth-quarter volume surge capped off the North American intermodal industry's best-ever growth year, according to the Intermodal Association of North America's (IANA) quarterly Intermodal Market Trends & Statistics report.

Quarterly domestic and international containers and trailers totaling 3.37 million rose 9.6 percent compared with fourth-quarter 2003 — the 11th-straight quarterly gain. For all of 2004, domestic and international containers and trailers totaled 12.9 million, an 8.6 percent increased compared with 2003.

Quarterly gains were led by international containers, which rose 15.2 percent to 1.83 million units compared with the same 2003 period and tied a high-water mark set in first-quarter 2000. Fourth-quarter trailer volume of 716,000 units reached a five-year high, boosted by a 23 percent rise in 53-foot trailers — the segment's 12th-straight quarter of double-digit growth, IANA said.

However, quarterly domestic-container volume rose only 0.6 percent to 793,000 units compared with fourth-quarter 2003, the lowest year-over-year increase since IANA began reporting intermodal statistics in 1996.

"A number of factors seemed to drive domestic container weakness, including port congestion and diversions that may have slowed transloading, tight domestic container supply and increasing lengths of haul," IANA officials said in a prepared statement.

This year, international equipment volume should continue to drive intermodal growth and offset a domestic container slowdown, IANA predicts.

"Domestic demand for rail intermodal service should continue to grow in 2005," IANA officials said. "Even with a strong year-end finish, most forecasts still expect some moderation in intermodal growth this year."

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