Intermodal Rail Volume Index (ORAIL)

FreightWaves Customer SuccessRail/Intermodal

What is it?

The daily volume of non-refrigerated intermodal containers moving in the United States and Canada. The data is broken out as follows:

Direction of travel

    • Inbound to a market e.g. Chicago or CHI
      • The letter “I” will be the first letter in the ticker i.e. IRAIL20L.CHI
    • Outbound from a market e.g. Chicago or CHI
      • The letter “O” will be the first letter in the ticker i.e. ORAIL20L.CH

Container Length

    • There are five container lengths – 20’, 40’, 45’, 48’ and 53’ which appear after the word “RAIL” in the ticker
      • A loaded 20’ container inbound to Chicago would be IRAIL20L.CHI

Loaded or empty

    • A container will have the letter “L” or “E” as the last character in the ticker to designate whether the container is loaded or empty
      • A loaded 20’ container inbound to Chicago would be IRAIL20L.CHI

Origin-destination pairing (OD pairing)

    • Outbound – the volume of loaded 20’ containers moving daily from one market to another can be calculated as follows:
      • Chicago to Atlanta would be ORAIL20L.CHIATL

Volume compared to past year, month, week or fortnight

    • The tickers ORAILLW, ORAILLF, ORAILLM, and ORAILLY display the data compared to one week ago, one fortnight ago, one month ago and one year ago, respectively. 
    • These tickers can be used in aggregate (e.g., ORAILLY.USA), outbound from a particular destination (e.g., ORAILLY.CHI) or between an origin-destination pair (e.g., ORAILLY.LAXDAL)
    • The year-ago comparison in ORAILLY helps for analysts to compare trends versus one year ago, removing the impact of seasonality  
    • In any of the above tickers, the final “L” can be replaced with “E” (such as ORAILEY) to denote empty containers rather than loaded containers – that is helpful for intermodal providers in determining where empty containers can be sourced

Volume compared to past year, month, week or fortnight

    • The tickers ORAILW, ORAILF, ORAILM, and ORAILY display the data compared to one week ago, one fortnight ago, one month ago and one year ago, respectively. 
    • These tickers can be used in aggregate (e.g., ORAILY.USA), outbound from a particular destination (e.g., ORAILY.CHI) or between an origin-destination pair (e.g., ORAILY.LAXDAL)
    • The year-ago comparison in ORAILY helps for analysts to compare trends versus one year ago, removing the impact of seasonality

Year-over-year changes specific to the domestic and international intermodal markets

  • ORAILDOMLY is the year-over-year change specific to the movement of domestic intermodal containers
    • Similarly, ORAIL53LY is the year-over-year change in the movement of loaded 53’ domestic intermodal containers
    • The ORAILDOMLY and ORAIL53LY data series are intended to help financial analysts evaluate the publicly traded domestic intermodal marketing companies (i.e., J.B. Hunt, Hub Group, and Schneider)
  • ORAIL40LY is the year-over-year change specific to the movement of international 40’ containers. 
    • 40’ container movements are performed by the railroad on behalf of shipping lines and a separate market from 53’/domestic container movements. 

Country Volume

    • United States
      • Using the same example above, the total volume of outbound 20’ loaded intermodal containers in the U.S. would be ORAIL20L.USA
    • Canada
      • Using the same example above, the total volume of outbound 20’ loaded intermodal containers in Canada would be ORAIL20L.CAN

International Routes

  • Canada: ORAIL.USACAN and ORAIL.CANUSA
  • Mexico: ORAIL.USAMEX and ORAIL.MEXUSA
  • SONAR allows you to compare volumes between countries:

Canada Lanes

    • For container moves from the U.S. to Canada
      • the ticker would be ORAIL20E.CHIMNT
  1. Using the same Chicago example above to determine the volume of outbound 20’ loaded containers moving from Chicago to Montreal

Mexico Lanes

  • For container moves from the U.S. to Mexico
  • the ticker would be ORAIL20E.CHIMXC
    • Using the same Chicago example above to determine the volume of outbound 20’ loaded containers moving from Chicago to Mexico City

Volume Changes

  • SONAR also allows you to look at the change in intermodal volumes, weekly, fortnightly, quarterly and yearly.
  • Weekly – RTOIT
  • Monthly – MORAIL20E, MORAIL40E, MORAIL45E, MORAIL48E, MORAIL53E, MIRAILL, MIRAILE, MORAILL, and MORAILE

Who is interested?

CEO’s, Intermodal Marketing Contractors, Logistics Trackers, Railroad Customer Service, Domestic Container Fleet Managers, Freight Forwarders, Pricing Analysts, Operations Managers, Dispatchers, Brokers and Analysts

What does it tell me?

According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), rail intermodal is the largest single source of U.S. freight rail revenue and represents a competitively priced, environmentally friendly alternative to road transport. It has grown in large part because railroads have invested billions of dollars on new intermodal terminals, track upgrades, and other infrastructure projects that have made rail intermodal more reliable and cost-effective.

Rail intermodal is defined as the long-haul movement of shipping containers and truck trailers by rail, combined with a truck or water movement at one or both ends. Intermodal allows railroads, ocean carriers, trucking companies, and intermodal customers to take advantage of the best attributes of various transportation modes to yield an efficient and cost-effective overall freight movement.

The daily volume of intermodal containers tells you:

  • The volume of freight moving between freight markets
  • The volume of empty containers being repositioned due to freight imbalances between markets
  • The volume of international shipping containers moving by rail
  • The volume of empty shipping containers being shipped overseas back to their port of origin due to international trade imbalances