Metropolitan Chicago's ability to move goods quickly and efficiently has never been more important than in today's globalized economy. Intermediate and finished goods now must move great distances. Since the end of the recession, U.S. imports and exports increased by 36 and 38 percent respectively. Intermodalism -- the movement of containerized cargo via multiple transport methods such as rail, trucks, planes, and ships -- offers the best fit for some freight transportation needs, matching the universal access provided by trucks with the low long-distance hauling costs of rail transportation. The need to manage costs of fuel, labor, equipment, and inventory has contributed to further growth in the use of this transportation mode. As global trade and supply chains develop, demands on the region's freight system have increased.
This policy update explores intermodalism, how national trends affect metropolitan Chicago, and the challenges and opportunities faced by our region. It includes discussion of the most recent data showing that national intermodal activity increased by 35 percent between 2000-13, and that metropolitan Chicago is the largest point of origin and termination for intermodal shipments in the U.S., with close to half of all shipments originating or terminating here in 2013.