Intermodal freight operators entered the year expecting modest gains over a somewhat lackluster 2019 in which the industry handled some 13.7 million rail container units. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Businesses shut their doors and sent employees to work from home. Consumers sheltered in place, unemployment skyrocketed, and the economy contracted to levels not seen since the Great Depression.
The impact on intermodal traffic was immediate. April and May saw volumes crater as weekly intermodal shipments dropped at an unprecedented pace. Ocean lines canceled hundreds of ship calls, reducing the flow of import containers into the U.S. to a trickle. Transportation companies furloughed employees. Railroads parked locomotives and sidelined railcars. Containers and chassis stacked up at ports and intermodal yards across the nation.