Intermodal Roundtable

Intermodal Roundtable

While intermodal volumes were viewed as strictly “average” in the months leading up to the pandemic, they subsequently tumbled in the following months. And even though market conditions are still less than ideal, there are now signals of intermodal optimism, as recent reports indicate that volumes are slowly working their way back to pre-pandemic levels, with domestic activity leading the way.

Intermodal has thus far made a rapid recovery from the pandemic-related downturn. Volume bottomed out in mid-April, with the U.S. weekly intermodal volumes as reported by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) down 20% annually. Since then, activity has steadily increased. The most recent readings came in 33% higher than the trough and 5% ahead of prior year—a remarkable performance.

This recovery has been powered entirely by the domestic intermodal sector, that is, the movement of domestic containers and trailers, as opposed to the international sector, which comprises the movement of ISO (international) containers. In July, IANA data showed domestic movements up 11% over prior year, while intermodal moves were still down by almost 13%.

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