A national average intermodal spot rate of $2.61/mile last week tied the YTD high in our data series, underscoring strong containerized imports and tight capacity on the rails, especially on the West Coast.
Last week, intermodal volumes across the Class 1s maintained double-digit year-over-year growth, and average intermodal train velocities also accelerated. Intermodal tender rejections on a national basis actually came down under 3%, but we expect further waves of tightening and congestion to ripple through the nation’s intermodal network into Q1.
Large IMCs are working with railroads on long-term solutions to capacity issues and container imbalances, but there is no obvious path forward. Bottlenecks in Los Angeles and Long Beach are being exacerbated by multiple factors including high volumes, lack of space, imbalanced container flows and labor shortages. Those overlapping problems are creating extraordinary delays and additional costs in intermodal networks.
The intermodal situation provides a telling contrast to the current state of trucking markets, where owner-operator/spot capacity has rushed in to take advantage of high rates. Shippers who began raising contract rates in September have succeeded in driving routing guide compliance to some degree, and tender rejections are well off their highs. Intermodal is much less of a “market” and is controlled by a smaller number of suppliers; capacity tightness won’t be solved by high rates but will require more complex coordination among many parties.
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