The US economy emerged from its recession during the first quarter of 2010 as increased consumer demand and inventory acquisition prompted a significant rise in total intermodal volume. Domestic container volume posted the strongest growth, rising 15.7% year-over-year.
Compared with 0.1% growth during Q1 2009, this new growth indicates the uptick is not just a rebound from last year’s depressed volume levels. Domestic container increases expanded monthly during the quarter, ranging from 10% in January to more than 20% during March. All US regions recorded increases in domestic container volume greater than 10% year-over-year while Canadian domestic container shipments were down 1.0%, hindering the overall growth rate.
Strong port volumes supported a 7.8% gain in international containers during the quarter. Like domestic container growth, international growth accelerated throughout the quarter. While international containers grew by only 1.0% in January and 3.0% in February, they strongly advanced 18.0% in March. Gains in international container shipments were broad-based across all regions except the Southwest, which dropped 2.8% during the quarter.
The rise in domestic and international intermodal shipments translated into an 8.4% intermodal volume gain year-over-year. Although total intermodal volume was flat in January versus 2009, by March total intermodal volume was 16.7% higher than during last year. All regions recorded total intermodal volume growth greater than 6.0% during the quarter except the Southwest region, which experienced only a 2.8% uptick. With the first quarter off to a strong start, and the emerging economic recovery, continued strong service levels, growing domestic container fleets, and rising fuel prices, intermodal appears poised for a strong rebound in 2010.