Intermodal volume increased 9.6 percent year-over-year in the first quarter as international volume grew for the fifth-straight quarter, according to a report released May 12 by the Intermodal Association of North America.

IANA's Intermodal Market Trends & Statistics report also notes that overall domestic intermodal volume also increased during the quarter by a significant 8.4 percent.

International gains were propelled by continued strength in imports as retail sales and consumer spending improved in Q1 2011. Domestic volumes also continued to increase, with trailer loads rising 7.5 percent - the fourth-consecutive quarter of gains for trailers. Most notable is that 53-foot trailer loads posted a substantial 21.7 percent gain, the best performance for this category since Q1 2005. Rapidly rising diesel fuel prices may have helped shift some over-the-road volume to rail during the quarter.

Domestic container volume increased 8.8 percent, only slightly below Q4 2010's 8.9 percent rise. Unlike some recent quarters, gains were not driven by transloaded international freight. The most significant domestic container growth came from the Southeast, 16.7 percent, followed by the South Central, 15.5 percent, and the Northeast, 14.4 percent. The Southwest and Western Canada regions - both centers of international freight transloading by rail - posted below average increases during Q1 2011.

Intermodal volume forecasts by some analysts project overall gains of 6-8 percent in 2011, indicating that this should be a good year for all intermodal markets, especially as year-over-year comparisons bump-up against the strong gains of late 2010.