December and calendar year 2021 intermodal volumes are mixed, reports IANA

December and calendar year 2021 intermodal volumes were mixed, according to data provided to LM by the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA).

Total December volume—at 1,437,036 units—was off 10.4% annually, steeper than November’s 9.0% annual decline. Trailers—at 108,972—were off 12.3%, compared to November’s 5.4% decline and more in line with October’s 14.3% decrease. Domestic containers—at 688,644—were basically flat, falling 0.2%, following November’s 0.5% decline, and all domestic equipment—at 797,616—dropped 2.0%, following a 2.8% November gain. ISO, or international, containers—at 639,420—saw a 19.0% annual decrease.

For calendar year 2021, total intermodal volume—at 18,435,249—was up 3.6% over 2020. Trailers—at 1,212,748—increased 2.2%, and domestic containers—8,021,252—rose 2.3%. All domestic equipment—at 9,234,000—were up 2.3%. ISO containers—at 9,201,249—posted a 5.0% annual increase.

These calendar year tallies fell short of IANA’s expectations from earlier in 2021, when it cited the pairing of strong domestic demand and weak annual comparisons as key factors.  

IANA estimated that total intermodal volumes would rise 9% annually for the year, with ISO leading the way, with an expected annual gain of almost 13%. Domestic container moves were pegged to be up a little more than 6%, with trailer loads estimated to be up between 1.5-to-2.5%.

When asked how much of a concern are the current supply disruptions, like port congestion and the labor shortage, on intermodal volumes, IANA Director of Marketing & Communications David Garofalo recently told LM that the point to keep in mind is that the current challenges are a direct result of the pandemic and the impact on the economy.

“In the short term, we’ve had unprecedented freight volumes that could not have anticipated or planned for along with all the components of the intermodal supply chain being impacted,” he said. “Issues will remain until the right equipment is in the right place at the right time. The relocation of both containers and chassis has been an issue and again, it isn’t so much a shortage of equipment as it is the overwhelming amount of freight working through the intermodal supply chain.”

Dr. Noel Hacegaba, Deputy Executive Director and COO, for the Port of Long Beach (POLB), and IANA’s Chairman of the Board, told LM that while the 3.6% annual increase represents more than $51 billion in annual revenue, the numbers don’t truly reflect everything that is going on.

“There continue to be challenges as a direct result of the pandemic and the unprecedented freight volumes,” he said. “From a POLB perspective, we have never seen anything like this, in terms of the amount of volume and freight entering our transportation network. All of the components of the intermodal supply chain have been affected. There are issues with having the right equipment in the right place at the right time. Solutions for freight congestion must be developed collaboratively, and this is something IANA has been a very key player in over the years. But it is even more important now, and we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to really bring the transportation community together to facilitate some of these innovative solutions and overcome not just the current congestion but really set up our supply chain for success over the long haul.”

And he added that the pandemic-influenced supply chain disruptions are opportunities to create a more resilient supply chain in conjunction with the recently-signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

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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