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September 8, 2014 2:45 AM, EDT

Executives Gather in Calif. for IANA Meeting as Truck-Rail Cargo Growth Accelerates

By Rip Watson, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the Sept. 8 print edition of Transport Topics.

Executives from the trucking, rail, ocean and equipment industries will gather Sept. 21-23 for the Intermodal Expo as cargo growth continues at a record pace and rail service delays pose challenges in the sector.

The Intermodal Association of North America’s 2014 event in Long Beach, California, will be accompanied by the concurrent fall meeting of the Transportation Intermediaries Association.

Intermodal advocates can point to the latest figures that show a 5.7% increase in 2014 U.S. rail/truck shipments through Aug. 29 — and a 7% increase in Canada — as measured by the Association of American Railroads. Both figures top the growth pace of trucking and rail carload shipments this year.

However, the increase in intermodal along with rail shipments of grain and other bulk products have clogged rail lines, slowing intermodal shipments across the industry by at least 5%.

As for the 2014 conference, IANA and TIA, along with consultant FTR, have developed a broader focus.

“This year’s educational program has been doubled and organized into interest area tracks, with enhanced networking and social activities,” Joni Casey, president of IANA, told Transport Topics.

In addition to 16 educational sessions that concentrate on economics, sales, operations and small-business support, the event also includes general sessions. Those portions of the meeting will address broader industry issues, including the business outlook and the effect of changing ocean cargo patterns between West Coast and East Coast ports.

The maritime aspects are being emphasized in another way. Long Beach is the second-largest U.S. port, and attendees are being offered a tour of the port. Long Beach and larger neighbor Los Angeles have been an industry focal point because union workers are continuing to move cargo there while coastwise labor talks continue on a new contract to replace one that expired on June 30.

While there hasn’t been a disruption, trade groups representing retailers and other shippers have warned of widespread consequences in the event of a disruption.

Casey cited more new features, telling TT, “We’re also going digital with a ‘social wall’ and ‘media lounge’ to keep attendees connected while they visit more than  120 exhibits.”

TIA President Robert Voltmann said meeting simultaneously with IANA offers opportunities for brokers.

“The continuing expansion of the economy, coupled with the continuing reduction in trucking capacity, makes the use of intermodal by 3PLs a necessity,” he told TT. “The Intermodal Expo offers one-stop shopping for 3PLs looking to add or expand intermodal into their company’s service offerings.”

Brokers have increased truck/rail shipments on a year-over-year basis for the past six quarters, according to the TIA Market Report.

The report also identified little change in recent brokers’ profit margins on intermodal freight. Margins rose above 14% for the first time in three years on truckload shipments as reported in the TIA survey.

“The intermodal option continues to gain in stature and its importance will continue to grow given the trends that we foresee on the highway,” said Larry Gross, senior consultant at consulting firm and intermodal specialist FTR.

Another change in 2014 is the absence of the National Industrial Transportation League, whose TransComp event until last year had for more than a decade shared the trade show floor with Expo. This year’s separate NITL meeting is scheduled for Nov. 15-19 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.