Resilience of U.S. Rail Intermodal Freight during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Joseph L. Schofer, Hani S. Mahmassani*, Max T.M. Ng

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 marked a challenging time for the US and its freight industry. Manufacturing slowed, consumer purchasing patterns changed, and for many, shopping moved online. The freight industry suffered a sharp decline in shipments, followed by a surprisingly quick rebound. The industry had to adapt quickly to meet fast-changing demand and supply patterns upended by global supply chain disruptions. This paper uses U.S. intermodal activity data, supported by in-depth interviews with leaders of railroads, intermodal carriers, equipment manufacturers, car leasing companies, shippers, and e-commerce players to characterize and assess how the rail industry met the challenge of this demand whiplash and other performance impediments. What emerges is a rich picture of the multi-actor intermodal supply chain, the impacts of COVID-19 on it, the performance of the logistics system in general, and railroads in particular during the pandemic. Industry interviews revealed that a handful of choke points, many of which were outside the rail industry, complicated supply chain responses to COVID-19. The paper shows how the rail industry was an essential component of pandemic resilience, demonstrating a high level of adaptability to meet consumer and business demands. Through the use of depth interviews it reveals the complexity of the intermodal supply chain, and it accurately foretells the subsequent disruptions that continued to plague that supply chain long after the initial impacts of the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100791
JournalResearch in Transportation Business and Management
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • COVID-19
  • E-commerce
  • Freight
  • Intermodal
  • Port
  • Rail
  • Resilience
  • Supply chain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Business and International Management
  • Transportation
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research


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