CSX and CN expect strong intermodal traffic to continue into 2021

Containers and trailers continue to run ahead of 2019 levels, leading rebound from pandemic slump
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Officials at CSX and Canadian National project that the current strength of intermodal volume will continue into 2021.
TRAINS: David Lassen

CSX Transportation and Canadian National see strong intermodal volumes continuing through March as retailers across North America look to replenish their inventories.

Intermodal traffic, which tanked along with the rest of rail volume at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, has bounced back faster than carload volumes and is currently running ahead of last year’s levels.

U.S. intermodal volume was up 10% in October, while CN’s intermodal business is up 15% since Oct. 1.

CSX’s intermodal customers see strength straight into March, says Mark Wallace, the railroad’s executive vice president of sales and marketing. 

“Intermodal is doing extremely well right now. We expect that to continue deep into Q1,” Wallace says, referring to the first quarter of 2021. “This e-commerce phenomenon is continuing, and we’re seeing some great volumes in this replenishment of inventories, and restocking is going extremely well.”

CSX’s intermodal volumes are up 10% since Oct. 1, with trailer volume up 26% compared to a year ago. Trailers often carry parcels and less than truckload shipments related to e-commerce. Growth in online retail sales have accelerated due to the pandemic.

Keith Reardon, CN’s senior vice president of consumer product supply chain, notes that his railway has sales people based in Asia who have visibility into international intermodal volume. “They’re telling us that they see this international trade coming from Asia continuing past Chinese New Year, so deep into February, maybe March, to replenish the inventories that are down in North America.”

CN is benefitting from its unique access to container ports on the West, East, and Gulf coasts, Reardon says.

Danish shipping line Maersk recently made its first call at the CN-served Port of Mobile, Ala., with Asian cargo that was routed through the Panama Canal. And the expanded PSA terminal in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has opened its second berth and recently received its first ultralarge vessels that carry more than 15,000 twenty-foot equivalent containers.

The CN and CSX executives spoke on Thursday at the Baird Industrials Conference.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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