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First-quarter 2020 intermodal volumes fell 6.7 percent to 4,177,989 units compared with the same quarter last year, according to Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) data.
Year over year, international intermodal volume (2,057,685 containers) dropped 11.3 percent, while domestic volume (1,862,499 containers) climbed 2.2 percent and trailers (257,805) plunged 23.3 percent, IANA officials said in the association's Intermodal Quarterly report.
The volume decline follows an annual loss of 4.1 percent in 2019, IANA officials said.
"Intermodal was impacted by COVID-19 related issues at the start of 2020, while trade uncertainty pulled down volume in 2019," the report states.
Auto plant and other manufacturing shutdowns across North America, coupled with declining imports, also made for a difficult start to the year, IANA reported.
Q1 2020 performed "slightly better" compared to the 7.4 percent loss in Q4 2019.
The pandemic's impact on intermodal volume makes it difficult to forecast the future, IANA officials said.
"The decline is expected to be much larger in Q2, and perhaps through the rest of 2020," the report states. "While volume could surge back up later this year, international volume will likely fall between 15 percent and 20 percent during the rest of 2020. This reflects the very low demand for imports, as well as the impact of tariffs, most of which remain in place."
Domestic container loads also are expected to fall 15 percent to 20 percent as a result of low demand, falling fuel prices and an expected decline in import transloads.
"Trailers were expected to fall significantly prior to COVID-19, but are now expected to fall even more," the report states. "Overall, total intermodal loadings are forecast to fall about 15 percent for all of 2020. Yet all those dealing with intermodal should know it is very difficult to confirm where this will go this year."