Blume Global headed to the Midwest last week, to Lombard, Illinois for IANA’s Intermodal Operations, Intermodal Operations, Safety & Maintenance Business Meeting. At the event, our Group VP of product strategy, Glenn Jones, joined representatives from across the intermodal freight industry for a panel that discussed forces driving the intermodal industry.

While the rampant growth for the sector in 2018 is not going to be repeated in 2019, the outlook is mild-to-favorable for the industry — and will be bolstered with continued investments in supply chain technology.

Here are three things we heard throughout the week at IANA:

Imports inspire mild optimism after a Rough Q1. Overall intermodal loads fell in Q1 for the first time since 2016, although international business rose slowly. IANA reported that, for the quarter ended March 31, international intermodal volumes increased 1.2 percent, but domestic containers and trailers dropped 4.1 percent and 5.4 percent respectively. Joni Casey, IANA’s president and CEO, said a variety of factors — particularly, the reduction of tariff-driven imports after a year of front-loading— drove the losses. JOC’s Ari Ashe reported that “import estimates offer some relief in that forecasts call for volume growth, albeit at a slower pace than last year.”

Trucking capacity will ease in 2019 — to the benefit of intermodal companies. Trucking capacity is not expected to be as tight in 2018, when a driver shortage and the ELD mandate put a lid on availability. For intermodal, this meant just getting loads through docks was a challenge — one intermodal executive joked to JOC, “If it's a rectangle and it can hold freight, shippers will use it to get loads off their docks.” Not so in 2019 — softening demand will ease the demand on drivers and relieve some of the delays.

Technology will continue to improve the intermodal customer experience. Large-scale investments in supply-chain visibility technology will power significant improvements in shipment predictability and terminal fluidity. Always-connected assets, coupled with advancements in analytics and AI are improving productivity and enhancing the customer experience.

We had a great week at IANA joining our colleagues from around the country to discuss the issues impacting the intermodal industry. Did you miss us at IANA? Come join us next month at the Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference in Phoenix, Arizona May 13–16, 2019.

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