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Rail News: Intermodal

IANA report: Strong domestic container traffic pumped up 3Q intermodal volume

In the third quarter, domestic container volume resurfaced as the leading intermodal market segment, but international volume tumbled lower than its second-quarter level, according to the Intermodal Association of North America's (IANA) latest Intermodal Market Trends and Statistics report.

Domestic container volume climbed 7 percent to 1,666,274 units, while international container volume rose 4.7 percent to 2,136,820 units compared with third-quarter 2013 figures.

Although international loads posted the strongest growth in 2Q, domestic container traffic reclaimed its place as the best-performing market segment in 3Q, IANA officials said in the report. And as further proof of the domestic intermodal segment's strength, for the first time since the association began recording data, domestic volumes were greater than international volumes on a seasonally adjusted basis, they said.

"Both domestic and international intermodal volumes remain strong through the midpoint of this seasonal shipping peak," said IANA President and Chief Executive Officer Joni Casey in a press release. "Domestic container movements have posted gains every quarter since the third quarter of 2005, and this trend is expected to continue as highway capacity tightens."

Total intermodal volume in the quarter increased 5.1 percent year over year to 4,214,708 units. All domestic equipment volume rose 5.5 percent to 2,077,88 units and trailer volume was flat at 411,614 units, ending a three-quarter streak of trailer volume gains and suggesting a weaker overall outlook, IANA officials said.

Overall, eight of nine regions monitored by IANA recorded volume gains in the quarter. Western Canada and the South-Central region reported increases exceeding 10 percent. Growth in the Northeast, Southeast, and Eastern Canada regions surpassed the overall industry average of 5.1 percent, while the Southwest, Midwest and Mountain Central regions registered increases between 2 and 4 percent, IANA said.

Meanwhile, import container volume at U.S. ports covered by the Global Port Tracker report is expected to total 1.4 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) this month, down from 1.59 million TEUs recorded in both October and September that broke the previous monthly record of 1.52 million TEUs set in August, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates. Cargo volume has been well above average each month since spring as retailers imported merchandise early in case of any labor disruption at docks.

The lack of a new contract between the Pacific Maritime Association and International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and other operational issues have led to "crisis-level congestion" at West Coast ports in recent weeks, prompting concern of a shutdown, according to the Global Port Tracker report. NRF and more than 100 other business groups last week asked President Obama to send a federal mediator to help with contract negotiations.

However, labor is not the primary cause of the port congestion, ILWU officials said in a press release. The main culprits are a chassis shortage, rail service delays (including a nationwide shortage of rail cars), long truck turn times, record import volumes, larger vessels carrying more massive amounts of cargo and the peak shipping season, they said.

"Adding to this, on Sept. 23, the Port of Los Angeles experienced its largest fire in decades, forcing the evacuation of 850 workers and resulting in the temporary closing of three of six cargo terminals, causing delays in the movement of cargo that reverberated down the supply chain," ILWU officials said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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