Quest for High quality 2021: Rail/Intermodal

As LM has been reporting, the impact of the pandemic knocked a serious dent into the state of U.S. rail carload and intermodal volumes over the course of the last year. However, volumes are now recovering at a significant pace due to the vast differences in business conditions between 2020 and 2021.

According to data from the Association of American Railroads (AAR), U.S. carload volumes were up 7.3% through the first five months of 2021 on an annual basis, and the weekly carload average for May far outpaced the May 2020 weekly carload average.

For the month of May 2021 alone, U.S. rail carloads saw a 30.4% annual gain, according to AAR. And as group news editor Jeff Berman recently reported, rail intermodal volumes have also shown a strong rebound compared to a year ago, with May U.S. container and trailer volume seeing a 26.2% annual increase.

Meanwhile, U.S. container and trailer volumes through the first five months of 2021 are up 19.2% annually, while average U.S. weekly intermodal volume for May showed a 20.7% annual increase. According to AAR data, that marked the 7th-highest weekly U.S. intermodal average for any month, and the most ever for the month of May.

“Volume data from the AAR has been nothing but encouraging, and we expect that to continue over the next few months,” says Berman. “And while there are some stresses to the system, like more pressure on intermodal due to the truck driver shortage, providers are working on maintaining overall service levels in spite of the challenges.”

And while the rail/intermodal market is making strides to get back on track, the readers of Logistics Management tell us that the eight intermodal providers listed in this category have done a terrific job maintaining world-class service despite the disruptions of the past year.

J.B. Hunt Transport Services put up the highest weighted score of our four Quest for Quality winners in the 2021 Rail/Intermodal Service Provider category with an impressive 49.52. And, J.B. Hunt led the way in On-time Performance (11.88), Information Technology (8.24), Customer Service (9.65), and Equipment & Operations (9.34). Norfolk Southern put up the top mark in the Value attributecategory with a 10.54.

In this year’s Intermodal Marketing Companies category, ArcBest posted the top score out of the four winners with a notable 52.58, and led the way in each of the five attribute categories.

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