FTR: Shorter-haul intermodal not increasing in importance

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The share of domestic intermodal revenue movements accounted for by moves of 1,000 miles or less has declined in the past year, a recent analysis by FTR Associates shows. Domestic intermodal equipment moving less than 1,000 miles accounted for 42 percent of total North American domestic equipment revenue moves, down 1 percent from the same period in 2009. Similarly, movements of less than 1,500 miles also declined in importance by 1.2 percent during the same period.

Domestic intermodal equipment consists of trailers plus containers of 48 and 53 feet in length. The analysis, which is based upon Intermodal Association of North America ETSO data, is contained in the April 2010 issue of FTR’s Intermodal Monthly Update.

“Given the recent emphasis placed on shorter-haul markets by major intermodal players and the eastern railroads, these results are somewhat surprising” says Lawrence Gross, senior consultant for FTR and author of the analysis. “The number of domestic equipment revenue movements of less than 1,500 miles in Q4 2009 was lower than 12 months earlier, even as such movements of greater than 1,500 miles increased.”

According to Gross, the study also revealed another interesting factor. “Domestic intermodal is particularly weak in the 1,000- to 2,000-mile range,” he says. “This accounts for a far lower percentage of movements than either the 750- to 1,000-mile range or the 2,000- to 2,500-mile range. We believe this is because most moves of between one and two thousand miles involve more than one railroad, and the need to interchange impedes intermodal’s ability to compete.”