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Intermodal savings persist in early 2024

May 21, 2024 Kevin Baxter

Intermodal Savings Index

Shippers using intermodal continued to save versus truckload in early 2024, on both spot and contract rates. According to the latest Journal of Commerce (JOC) Intermodal Savings Index, contract rates were 25.5% below truckload in the first quarter, while spot rates via intermodal saved 17.4%. Contract savings was flat year to year, while spot rates were 2.4% better than January to March of 2023.

The savings over truckload come even as intermodal saw improved volume for the second straight quarter, with the total amount of goods hauled by the combination of road and rail jumping 8.8% over Q1 of last year according to the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA). Domestic container intermodal - excluding trailers - was up a smaller 3.4%, with total volumes of domestic containers coming in at 1.99 million. While the uptick is positive, that figure is still well behind two years ago - when the tail-end of the pandemic-related peak saw 2.04 million containers on the move in the first quarter of 2022.

With volume still well behind capacity - especially when accounting for continued space on truckload as well - index authors suggest pricing is likely to remain flat into early 2025, with little to no rate increases expected over the next several months. That's not the best news for service providers, as rates across the board remain well off their 2022 highs, though it means shippers are likely continue to benefit from lower shipping costs for another year or so.

Freight Rate Graph 2016-24 

As volume has gone up though, it's worth noting that service has remained steady. Average intermodal train speed was 30.8 mph, only slightly off the 31.2 mph measured in quarter one of last year but also 1.3 mph better than the same period in 2022. Trains are also significantly more reliable, with six fewer per week held for various reasons than last year, and a whopping 26 fewer per week than two years ago.

For more information and commentary on the intermodal market from January to March of 2024, subscribe to the Journal of Commerce to read the full report.

Each quarter, the Journal of Commerce (JOC) releases its proprietary Intermodal Savings Index, which combines real data from the intermodal and truckload marketplace with forecasts and more. We provide statistics used in this valuable look at the intermodal market as it relates to truckload options. Find some of our contributions in our weekly Intermodal Spot Rate Pricing Trendline Analysis.

Need assistance with intermodal shipping - or just about any other shipping or logistics need? Let us know, and we'll discuss how you can put us to work for your company. We also have a variety of useful information about intermodal, plus freight and logistics in general (as well as what we do at InTek) in our Freight Guides. Additionally, subscribe to our blog for information and updates on the freight industry. Or you can start with a few of the links below: 

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