07/20/2022 by Christine Morris
As more shippers look to reduce freight costs and their carbon footprint, intermodal logistics continues to see rapid growth. The Intermodal Freight Transportation Market has predicted a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 8.27 percent from 2021 to 2026 for intermodal logistics. And with intermodal peak season on the way, shippers using this mode must have the right shipping strategies in place.
Intermodal can be a very effective mode when it matches up with the right customers, but with the rapid growth of customers choosing intermodal logistics, we often hear a similar question from our shipping customers: “What should I expect during intermodal peak season?” So, let’s learn more about what peak season for intermodal is, how it may affect you, and what you can do to stay ahead.
Peak shipping season refers to the time of year when freight volumes see an influx. For most modes, this falls in line with the time of year that retailers begin pushing inventory for back-to-school and the holiday season. During this time, shippers try to keep up with demand and manage inventories while fulfilling a high volume of orders, and motor carriers are busier than usual trying to deliver freight on time.
Historically, the peak shipping season for intermodal logistics is around June to December. While June may seem a bit early, many shippers are rushing to get their goods through West Coast ports before June 30th, and rail is a popular way for shippers to transport their West Coast imports. According to the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority, since 2006, the number of goods imported and then loaded into intermodal equipment through Los Angeles and Long Beach ports has grown 25 percent.
With roughly two-thirds of intermodal containers coming off the West Coast from import traffic during peak season, this limits the supply of 53’ containers heading East.
Even though June is the typical start of peak season for intermodal, it can fluctuate. Some years it can be later or earlier. But since the start of the pandemic, intermodal logistics have been greatly affected by capacity, making peak season more year-round than in former years. This is because of the rapid increase in online shopping year-round for consumers, which the pandemic only heightened.
“The past two years since the beginning of covid-19 has greatly impacted intermodal capacity,” says Jennifer Fritz, Trinity intermodal expert. “Historically peak season for intermodal logistics usually starts June through December, but with capacity affected by the change in supply chains from covid-19, it’s been tight year-round, making peak season pressure felt year-round instead of a few months of the year.”
Expected or unexpected, any time there is a major shift in supply chains, it can throw off your operation. So, how does peak season affect intermodal logistics? Well, it’s not much different than peak season shipping for any other mode.
You’ll see tightened capacity because of the increased freight volumes and demand. And anytime we see tightened capacity, we see increased prices as well. So, the more in demand something is with less supply, it equals higher rates.
You’re also bound to see some shipping delays and need to give longer lead times. Your usual service levels may also drop because of the overwhelming volumes of freight needing to be moved during peak season shipping. Especially lately with the continued covid-19 pandemic still affecting the market, West Coast ports, and ultimately, intermodal logistics.
Make sure you’re not unprepared for intermodal peak season. Each peak season is variable, rarely unlike another, and planning is more critical than ever with it being more frequent and extreme. Here are some tips to help you take control of intermodal peak season.
Book your intermodal shipments as far in advance as possible. Prices are volatile during intermodal peak season, and the rate to move a shipment through intermodal logistics can increase by hundreds of dollars over a single day. In addition, available equipment can often be an issue. This is not the season to wait until the last minute.
Ever since the start of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to know what’s going on in intermodal logistics. As we’ve seen over the past few years, supply chain disruption can happen at any time, so make sure you check the news daily or have a good resource to give you all the information you need.
Perhaps all your items don’t need to arrive during peak season. Great. If possible, schedule those shipments to ship after intermodal peak season, when there is more capacity and you’ll likely get a better shipping rate, or at least stagger them. So, if part of your shipment needs to arrive right away, have that delivered faster. And any freight that doesn’t need to deliver quickly, schedule that shipment for a later date.
As noted, with the influx of freight needing to be moved, there are bound to be delays. Many intermodal carriers have fully planned days and if they get delayed, it affects the rest of their movements. So, make sure you allow plenty of time for your products to get to their destination. This will help keep a delay from happening and possibly get you a better freight rate.
Prices can fluctuate between providers and from day to day. If you have the time, try getting prices from a few different providers or being more flexible with your dates to see if you can find a better value. For example, the difference between a 15-day delivery time and a 20-day delivery time could be significant. Check out all avenues and find what works best for your budget and freight.
Sometimes a mode will max out on capacity. If capacity is reached for intermodal logistics, ensure you have relationships with over-the-road carriers or a third-party logistics company as a backup. This ensures no matter what, you’ll be able to get your freight from point A to point B.
Partnering with an experienced 3PL can make navigating peak season for intermodal logistics, or any logistics mode, more accessible. Companies, like Trinity Logistics, often have longstanding relationships with carriers for all modes, plus logistics technology and well-trained teams ready to help you. A reputable 3PL will have seen it all during peak shipping seasons and be able to help you manage your logistics without batting an eyelash.
While we can’t look into a crystal ball and predict how long this never-ending peak season for intermodal logistics will last, we can tell you that many logistics providers and shippers are adapting. Intermodal peak season shipping can be stressful, but these tips can help you better navigate your intermodal logistics during the peak shipping season.
If you’re looking for help, Trinity Logistics is here to support you. We have a full Team of Intermodal Experts, experienced and ready to assist you with your intermodal logistics. Simply click the button below and let’s get connected.
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