March intermodal volumes see annual and year-to-date declines, reports IANA

March intermodal volumes saw declines, according to data provided to LM by the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA).

Total March volume—at 1,580,155 units—saw a 5.5% annual decline. Trailers—at 93,981—fell 15.7% annually. All domestic equipment, which is comprised of trailers and domestic containers, was up 3.0%, to 846,405 units. ISO, or international, containers—at 733,750—dropped 13.7%.   

Through the first three months of 2022, total intermodal volume—at 4,312,905—is down 6.6% annually. Domestic containers—at 2,046,210—are up 5.2%, and trailers—at 269,649—are down 12.8%. All domestic equipment—at 2,315,859—is up 2.8%. ISO containers are down 15.5%, to 1,997,046.

Heading into 2022, IANA forecasted total North American volumes to increase 2.9% annually, with domestic containers pegged at a 4.8% growth rate, and for trailer and ISO volumes to be down 5.0% and up 2.3%, respectively.

IANA President and CEO Joni Casey noted in a previous interview that IANA expects issues experienced during Q3 and Q4 of 2021—terminal capacity and congestion, driver and labor shortages, equipment misalignment, and adverse weather in some intermodal regions—to continue, to some extent, through the first half of 2022, with the 2.9% expected increase in volume to come to fruition, barring any additional stresses to the freight supply chain.

Since that time, though, the supply chain has seen new challenges, including the rampant spread of the Omicron variant early this year, as well as the ongoing shutdowns in China, which have stalled manufacturing and port operations there. The situation in China is having a downstream impact on United States-bound import patterns, at a time when the ongoing supply chain congestion issues appeared to be showing signs of improvement. And since then, China’s largest city, Shanghai, is under a full lockdown, which has been extended indefinitely, due to the ongoing increases in positive cases that have been reported.

Larry Gross, president of Gross Transportation Consulting, told LM that intermodal has gotten off to a fairly slow start in 2022, especially on the international side.

“International activity has really been suffering since last November,” he said. “We have seen some very large year-over-year deficits. In February, the annual comparisons were a little more moderate because when we look at what was happening last year, at this time, there was the Polar Vortex. There was not an equivalent type of weather disruption this year, and volumes are still down. We have really had continued disruption from an operational standpoint in the intermodal sector…and have not really seen the end of it yet.”

Addressing the impact of the current situation in China on intermodal, Gross said that the longer this situation goes on for, the more significant the disruptions become, said Larry Gross, president of Gross Transportation Consulting.

But, at the moment, he said, at the moment, that the China lockdowns are having a very small impact on North American intermodal operations.

“The reason for that is that we have queues of container ships, at most ports, that are persisting,” he said. “Until those queues get worked down, and all of that freight that is sitting out on the water waiting to be offloaded from the ships, then what we are really seeing here is a reduction in the number of ships that are entering the queue because of the disruptions we are seeing in China. I don’t see a big effect yet. But, to the extent that we see a huge surge in volume from China after all of these lockdowns are ended, that may build up these queues that have been shrinking, at least on the West Coast, but not so much on the East Coast because we are seeing a lot of diverted freight that is trying to get around the congestion on the West Coast and also around the risk of a port labor strike, with the end of the contract [between the PMA and ILWU] fast approaching.”

Freight is also moving a little earlier than normal simply because stakeholders have been impacted by the congestion and want to get their summer and back to school goods to arrive in plenty of time, given how the recent history has been painful, in terms of deadlines being missed, as freight has been sitting out on the water and otherwise delayed on route to destination, noted Gross.

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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