Rail Competition Takes a Bite Out of Van Rates

Spot market rates continue to decline seasonally, as volumes for February are slightly off compared to 2017. That loss can be attributed to competition from the railroads, as overall shipments are up slightly year over year, but more shippers have shifted freight over to rail intermodal.

In the fourth week of the year, intermodal shipments were up 6% compared to the same period last year, and that extra competition has helped push truckload rates lower.

But despite the drop in prices, the national average van rate is still 33% higher than at this point a year ago. So far, freight trends in February suggests that spot market capacity shortfalls as a result of the ELD mandate have had a stronger impact than economic conditions on van rates.

Van rates were down almost everywhere last week. The exception was Charlotte, which led the pack with a 1% uptick in outbound rates. We probably have at least another week or two of falling prices before trends reverse at the start of the spring shipping season.

Based on the load-to-truck ratios depicted in the map above, capacity in many areas has stayed tight two months after the ELD mandate’s phase-in period began. Those ratios have drifted down due to normal seasonal trends, but the national ratio of 7.1 van loads per truck is still very high, especially for February. The phase-in period for the ELD mandate ends on April 1, just as springtime freight is likely to be ramping up, so we could see another spike in load-to-truck ratios and rates in a repeat of December’s pattern.

All rates below include fuel surcharges and are based on real transactions between brokers and carriers.


The three lanes with the biggest increases all involved Chicago, one outbound and two inbound:

  • Chicago to Denver rose 13¢ to an average of $3.05/mile
  • Charlotte to Chicago was up 8¢ to $1.86/mile, back to where it was a month ago
  • Dallas to Chicago also climbed 8¢ to $1.44/mile, still short of last month’s average


Buffalo gave back many of the big increases made from the previous week. Rates were also down out of Allentown, PA. Brokers and shippers have had an easier time finding trucks on the West Coast, which has pushed rates lower there.

Three lanes in the Northeast dropped 25¢ each:

  • Buffalo to Allentown slid to $3.82/mile
  • Philadelphia to Boston fell to $3.84/mile
  • Buffalo to Chicago was down to $2.07/mile

A couple inbound lanes to Atlanta were likely affected by rail competition:

  • Chicago to Atlanta fell 24¢ to $2.75/mile
  • L.A. to Atlanta was off by 21¢ to $1.55/mile

Find loads, trucks and lane-by-lane rate information in DAT load boards, including rates from DAT RateView.

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