How can SONAR provide visibility into Rail Intermodal?

Use SONAR to gain visibility into intermodal volume and pricing that can’t be found in other data sets. Track all public rail data in one place and compare across modes utilizing U.S. customs data and FreightWaves’ proprietary truckload data.

Those involved in carrying, brokering or shipping via rail intermodal loads need to be able to compare intermodal rates against truckload rates, understand the capacity constraints and service levels of both modes, anticipate import volumes coming off the docks and have a strong handle on inventory levels and the consumer economy. 

Those involved in the rail carload business also need visibility into the industrial economy and commodity prices to anticipate traffic patterns. 

All of this information and much more is compiled into indexes that are easily accessible and updated daily. 

With SONAR, your modal optimization plans don’t rely on old data.



How do intermodal rates compare to truckload?

Intermodal rates should be 10%-15% below truckload to make the additional hand-offs and transit time worthwhile. But are they? With intermodal tools found in SONAR, a shipper, broker or carrier can see a unique lane-specific dataset for intermodal spot rates and compare those rates to trucking spot rates in the same lane. Better yet, tender rejection rates in SONAR provide insights into the direction of spot rates in the days ahead.

Are shippers finding value in intermodal? What better way than to see whether volumes are growing faster than truckload in other words, what the market is telling us. And not by looking at industry-wide intermodal volume, but by evaluating intermodal trends specifically in the sub-segments of the market you care about. Do you only care about 53’ loaded containers between L.A. and Atlanta? There’s a data series for that and over 100 other lanes, updated daily.

Inbound Rail Volume for Loaded 53' Containers

Dual axis chart view of Inbound Rail Volume for Loaded 53' Containers into Atlanta, GA (Blue) compared to Inbound Rail Volume for Loaded 53' Containers into Los Angeles, CA (Green)

A sampling of what you can benchmark with SONAR:

  • Intermodal rates in the marketplace can be benchmarked against intermodal spot rates available in SONAR on the same lanes. 
  • Intermodal containerized volume in the lanes and equipment types that you cover can be benchmarked against long-haul truckload volumes on the same lanes. 
  • Rail service levels can be benchmarked against velocity and terminal dwell times shown in SONAR by commodity and railroad. 
  • Rates charged by the railroads can be benchmarked against the pace of inflation in the railroads’ cost categories to gauge whether their rate increases are justified.


How can freight shipments be optimized across modes?

Moving and shipping freight is all about getting the job done effectively, on time, and with the lowest possible cost. For many, that means mode optimization, creating truckloads out of less-than-truckload shipments and intermodal shipments out of truckload shipments. But moving to intermodal creates risks related to the potential lack of timeliness and reliability. And are the savings really worth the effort? 

SONAR gives you access to economic data, maritime data, rail/intermodal data and trucking data so you can put the pieces together and make decisions to optimize your supply chain.

US Customs Maritime Import Shipments

Heat list view of US Customs Maritime Import Shipments

A sampling of what you can analyze with SONAR:

  • Surges in customs activity at particular ports translates to drayage opportunities at those ports in addition to their major intermodal destination pairs. 
  • Intermodal volume that is outperforming long-haul truckload in a particular lane means that shippers are receiving favorable intermodal service at an acceptable price. 
  • Falling tender rejections may mean that carriers will accept loads in lanes that are typically dominated by intermodal, such as L.A. to Dallas. 
  • International intermodal volume not keeping up with imports on the customs data means that inventories are becoming bloated in warehousing cities, such as Ontario, California. 
  • Customs data showing East Coast ports expanding market share is a negative indicator for intermodal volume since the eastern U.S. is more truck-competitive due to its shorter hauls.
  • Domestic intermodal outperforming international intermodal is a positive indicator for the domestic truckload-based intermodal providers relative to what can be seen in other data sources. 
  • Record rail velocity levels means that shippers are receiving “truck-like” service levels.


Keep your finger on the pulse of the economy and the railroads. 

With SONAR, you see changes in freight trends taking place in real time so widely reported data points won’t surprise you  they’ll just surprise everyone else. 

SONAR allows you to monitor daily changes in containerized intermodal volume and rates, broken down into the detail that specifically fits your business model. But, monitoring intermodal trends goes far beyond looking at data that directly fits into the “intermodal” category. Monitoring intermodal market conditions also involves staying on top of international shipping trends, the domestic truckload market, railroad service metrics, inventory levels, and the consumer economy. Easily monitor numerous data series in those important categories and more with SONAR. 

For those involved with the rail carload business, SONAR is the most convenient way to monitor commodity prices, rail carload volumes, rail service metrics, tariff rates, and rail cost metrics, all in one place.

Tree map view of yearly intermodal rates per lane

Tree map view of yearly intermodal rates per lane

A sampling of what you can monitor with SONAR:

  • Daily containerized intermodal volume throughout North America broken down by lane, city, container size, international vs. domestic and loaded vs. empty. 
  • Daily intermodal spot rates on over 100 lanes throughout the U.S. 
  • Customs data by U.S. port and by international trade lane. 
  • Overall carload volume by commodity segment.
  • Commodity prices that directly impact rail carload volumes. 
  • Railroad operating and service metrics (such as velocity and terminal dwell) by railroad and commodity. 
  • Railroad costs across expense segments.
  • Numerous proprietary truckload data series, such as tender rejections and spot rates, which provide insight into the competitiveness between truckload and rail intermodal.


Given the latest maritime, truckload and economic data, where does intermodal go from here?

Getting ahead of the rail/intermodal industry is about more than just counting cars or boxes. It’s about understanding related data points in the economy and in other transportation sectors that provide insight into where the industry is headed. 

In the rail industry, forecasting the economy is key. Intermodal volume is largely a function of the health of the consumer economy, while rail carload volume is tied to the industrial economy and commodity prices. 

More than one-third of rail traffic is tied to international trade. To forecast intermodal, one needs to see containerized volume coming in through the ports and the capacity for moving bulk exports back to the ports in international containers. 

Domestic intermodal is about being a low-cost, effective alternative to truckload, so knowing the relative attractiveness of truckload availability and rates is key. 

With SONAR, those involved in rail and intermodal can get ahead of the market by utilizing the transportation industry’s most comprehensive source for data, conveniently packaged all in one place.

Market tabe view of Loaded TEUs; 3D map view of Outbound Rail Volume 53' Containers (Loaded) with ship positions

Market tabe view of Loaded TEUs; 3D map view of Outbound Rail Volume 53' Containers (Loaded) with ship positions

A sampling of how SONAR can help you forecast:

  • Customs data on imports contained in SONAR is a leading indicator of international and domestic intermodal volume. 
  • Economic data in SONAR related to the consumer and industrial economy provides insight into the outlook for intermodal and rail carload volume, respectively. 
  • Proprietary truckload data, such as tender volume and tender rejections, contained in SONAR provides insight into how competitive truckload is with intermodal by lane, helping users to forecast which mode will take share. 
  • Intermodal volume contained in SONAR is more granular than other data sources (e.g., breaking down intermodal container volume between international and domestic and breaking down specific lanes) which shows whether shippers are finding value in intermodal and helps users forecast future demand.  
  • Data on empty containers helps forecast where there will be capacity constraints for the movement of goods in intermodal containers, pushing freight to the highway or inhibiting bulk exports.
  • Commodity prices contained in SONAR supports forecasts for rail carload volume and exports of bulk commodities, such as agricultural exports in international containers.

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