Shippers and intermodal marketing companies are running into intermodal capacity constraints all over the country, not just Southern California. Over the past week, intermodal tender rejections soared in Joliet (Chicago) and Savannah, Georgia, even as spot rates took another leg up out of Los Angeles.

There still appears to be a significant gap between the restored network fluidity cited by some railroads and the ease with which their customers can secure equipment and move their freight. It’s ultimately not surprising, given how a high-volume environment (U.S. intermodal volumes up 10.8% y/y) rapidly took hold after years of cost-cutting. 

Unfortunately, intermodal capacity constraints could persist deeper into peak retail season than in most years, due to both upstream and downstream demand. Upstream, ocean container volumes are still quite robust, pushing boxes into the ports and ultimately onto rail ramps. Downstream, retailers are still under urgent pressure to restock and replenish inventories: They need transportation capacity headed inland. In a normal year, intermodal drops off significantly in December just as truckload peaks; we may see a longer, more intense peak for intermodal this year than in years past.

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