Intermodal

Rail Price Spike: What You Need to Know

A capacity crunch in rail shipping is occurring earlier in the year than anticipated has the industry bolstering for substantial and sustained price hikes. Shippers should be aware of this trend. Rail prices are expected to continue to rise over the course of the year.

Market observers are pointing to fully booked rail lines on freight routes out of Southern California as an anomaly that indicates the trend, since the current level of demand typically doesn’t take hold until later in the year. Experts are anticipating unprecedented pricing peaks in rail prices in late summer and into the fall as many factors push more freight to railroads, including overall strong economic growth, a shortage of truck capacity, rising diesel prices, and reduced driver productivity attributed to the electronic logging device (Elog) mandate.

These factors, along with the capacity availability and reliability of intermodal shipping, are shifting the market:

  • Total domestic intermodal traffic expanded 7.4 percent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2018 (the strongest gain since the second quarter of 2014), according to the Intermodal Association of North America, as shippers that could not find truckload capacity turned to the rails.
  • The four-week moving average on U.S. intermodal is up 7.9 percent, according to the Association of American Railroads.
  • The Cass Intermodal Price Index rose 6.6 percent year over year in April to 141.9, close to the all-time record of 143.2 established the month before. The three-month moving average is up 5.9 percent.

With capacity so tight, shippers will need to be more proactive and flexible than ever, and look to lock up capacity as soon as it is available—especially smaller shippers that don’t have predictable volume and weren’t able to lock in capacity contracts earlier on. Those shippers will need to rely on the spot market to find capacity at a time when prices are at record highs.

All of that means shippers are likely to face a difficult year of negotiations and decisions. And in unpredictable markets like the current one, experienced partners and advisors are more important than ever. Agforce Transport Services monitors shipping markets closely and advises our customers how best to navigate the volatility that typically characterizes the market. We can help shippers navigate market fluctuations and better manage rate volatility by leveraging a wide variety of carriers.

Agforce specializes in customized transportation solutions for our customer’s specific business needs. To learn more, contact Agforce today for a free consultation. Give us a call at 844-713-6723 or email us at inquiry@agforcets.com.