US intermodal rail fluidity improves, but larger questions remain

PALM DESERT, California – The US intermodal rail supply chain, exceedingly slow this winter, has eased over the last three to four weeks, a welcome relief to beleaguered shippers ueffering from shipment delays ranging from five to 10 business days.

Calmer weather and a downshift in manufacturing following the Lunar New Year provided a pause for an over stressed railroad network. Nevertheless, demand remains elevated and train speeds are about two miles per hour slower, or 4 percent down compared with the prior year, based on conversations with intermodal marketing companies (IMCs) and data from the American Association of Railroads (AAR). Data from the Intermodal Association of North America also showed that volumes were up 8.1 percent in March on a year-over-year and sequential basis, fueled by double-digit growth from February in domestic intermodal and a smaller gain on the international side.

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