Despite all the talk that weak intermodal volumes this year meant there was not really a normal "peak," the major industry group that tracks shipments says traffic actually rose this fall in line with traditional norms and that this could point toward good end-of-year holiday retail sales.
That's the view offered by the Intermodal Association of North America in its latest industry outlook. IANA reported that third-quarter box shipments improved on their second-quarter performance, both in actual levels and in a more moderate drop from last year's third quarter.
The peak season usually revs up over the summer with import-laden containers hitting the intermodal network at seaports, getting ready for early warehouse restocking ahead of the crucial retail period that runs from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Many rail executives have said this year brought no real peak in terms of large demands for capacity.
But measured on a chart against traffic earlier in 2009, "there was, in fact, a peak this year," said IANA, "with mid-October volume . . . some 9 percent above its springtime levels, following a fairly typical seasonal pattern."
Even without the packed trains and terminals from earlier in the decade, "it was encouraging to see volume deliver a reasonable seasonal peak," the group said.
"Given the huge inventory drawdown of early 2009, this probably represented some rebuilding of depleted stocks," IANA said. "Perhaps they also presaged a stronger-than-expected holiday season, which would give a boost to the broader economy as well as to intermodal freight markets."
-By John D. Boyd.