Intermodal may be set to become the longest running hit on wheels, the transportation industry's version of "A Chorus Line," according to rail industry data.
North American rail intermodal volumes rose in September on a year-over-year basis for the 34th consecutive month, setting a pace that could lead to an all-time record in intermodal traffic, according to monthly data from the Association of American Railroads (AAR).
Intermodal traffic last month totaled 973,715 containers and trailers, up 2.5 percent from the same period in 2011, the AAR said. U.S. intermodal originations for the week ending Sept. 29 were the highest weekly total of the year and the third highest weekly total on record, the rail trade group said.
Intermodal continues to benefit from a shift by shippers from truck to lower-cost, more environmentally friendly rail for longer-haul moves. Additionally, truckers confronting rising diesel fuel costs and a continuing shortage of truckload drivers have migrated to intermodal service to move their customers' goods in over-the-road transportation. In fact, the proliferation of intermodal has led some trucking executives to worry less about the scarcity of drivers because demand for their services is on the decline anyway.
Despite those gains, total rail carloadings in September declined 3.7 percent from the year-earlier period, AAR said. Coal, the rails' largest commodity, dropped 12.1 percent year-over-year as weak demand persisted. Carloadings of metallic ore and waste and nonferrous scrap were also down by double-digit amounts year-over-year, the AAR said.