Is Intermodal on the Rise with ELD, Driver Shortage and Tightening Capacity?

A recent Cowen & Co survey discovered that 65 percent of shippers didn’t move their freight from road to rail during the second quarter. This result was also backed by a survey from Morgan Stanley, which had 59 percent of respondents indicating the same. However, while few shippers decide to make the switch, that could be changing this December. Why would shippers decided to hop the rails instead of utilizing trucks? Because of the Electronic Logging Device mandate which will be going into effect at the end of the year.

65 percent of shippers didn’t move their freight from road to rail during the second quarter.

The Reluctance to Shift

While rails are touted as a way to save money, more than a few shippers are reluctant to shift away from using trucks to haul their freight. Ideally, railroads as an intermodal service can offer a lower price at the expense of some speed. When it comes to inbound costs, it can be a way for some shippers to cut down on expenses in order to remain competitive. Or at least, that is the reasoning being sold to them.

Railroads as an intermodal service can offer a lower price at the expense of some speed

According to the Cowen survey, nearly half of the shippers surveyed stated that intermodal options only saved them upwards of five percent. A quarter of the respondents said that truck prices were lower than intermodal options. It’s that tight gap that might be responsible for making the reluctance to shift from road to rail. As there isn’t a huge cost advantage for sacrificing speed, most shippers prefer to stick with trucks as they don’t believe that rail can keep up with the speed of inventory turnover.

They don’t believe that rail can keep up with the speed of inventory turnover

Rails Starting to See Growth

Whatever reservations shippers might hold for rail and intermodal options will soon be falling to the wayside. For shippers that already made the switch, they noted not only better intermodal service but also the tightening of truckload capacity as their main reasons why.

Tightening of truckload capacity is a BIG concern

“Morgan Stanley asked shippers to rank truckload capacity in six months based on a scale where one equals abundant, five is balanced, and 10 is very tight. Shippers put the current market at 6.3 and projected 6.8 in six months. One year ago, the number was 4.9,” according to Transport Topics.

Executives believe that many truckers will leave the industry rather than deal with the ELD mandate

Another factor to consider is the potential spike in truck rates as truckload executives believe that many truckers will leave the industry rather than deal with the ELD mandate. Which, in turn, could cause a modest 3 percent increase in intermodal rates over the next six months due to a rise in demand.

“Overall, we view the results of this survey as positive for the railroads,” says Jason Seidl, a Cowen & Co analyst. “The 3.0% price increase expectation leaves additional breathing room from the all-important 2% rate, which is important because rail-cost inflation typically hovers in that area, and pricing will need to remain above that level in order for the railroads to improve their operating ratios.”

We view the results of this survey as positive for the railroads

The ELD mandate, the tightening of capacity, and the driver shortage could all be contributing factors to shippers taking a more favorable look at intermodal and rail options. In any case, 72 percent of respondents for the Morgan Stanley survey indicated that they would be increasing their rail spending in the next six months. However, in order to close the gap between either mode of pricing to err on the side of rails, there would have to be a serious shift in the trucking industry.

 

 

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