The reason intermodal trains increase urban congestion is because all of those containers have to use a drayage service to get the container to its final destination. Drayage means a truck and chassis is hauling the container and, as far as traffic congestion is concerned, each container hauled across the country becomes another 18-wheeler in an urban area.
My experience driving I-80 across Nebraska to Denver is that there is no congestion to relieve on the long-haul highways. But in Chicagoland, I-55 is pretty well gummed up now even during the off hours. I live in a western suburb. I used to use I-55 to go downtown to avoid I-290, which became a disaster years ago. Since I go downtown to take pictures only on Sundays, I now take Ogden to 31st Street to avoid I-290 and I-55.
It is a shame that CSX has torn up all of the routes between Chicagoland and Indianapolis and points south. I-65 is a long-haul highway that is congested. Since CSX did tear up the Monon, the state of Indiana needs to get some of its cut of the Federal highway pie and add a third lane to I-65 all the way between "the region" and Indianapolis. I now take I-355 to I-57 to US-52 when I go to Indianapolis or Atlanta to avoid I-294, I-80, and I-65. (Actually, Hunter Harrison killed a lot of CSX intermodal service, along with other railroad services, because he quit "switching containers" at their North Baltimore Yard and backed out of expanding a tunnel in Baltimore to handle dual-stack trains.)
This is what intermodal trains cause, not prevent, in the urban area --- lots of trucks on the local roads.
After railroad freight houses became obsolete, Santa Fe allowed JB Hunt to use their land in the southwest part of Corwith Yard for a regional terminal. Containers headed to California (both southern and Bay Area) can be loaded in Corwith. But containers and/or trailers headed to the pacific northwest using the former CB&Q route along the Upper Mississippi to the former Great Northern route must leave from Cicero Yard. I have wondered if JB Hunt's traffic used rubber or steel wheels between Corwith and Cicero. Steel wheels means that they load a cut of freight cars in Corwith and deliever that cut to Cicero before departure time. Rubber wheels means that all of the containers are drayed to Cicero. One Saturday, while checking out Cicero yard from the Metra station, I got my answer --- rubber wheels. These are the trucks I saw going to Cicero while I was there.
Hopefully, the recent CREATE WA4 Project allows BNSF to switch from rubber wheels to steel wheels for this local truck traffic.
My observations have been that four-bay cars carry plastic pellets whereas flour is carried in five-bay cars. So these cars probably are for Phoenix Closures.
84 Lumber is still rail served.
Update: This article by Jim Blaze argues that carload traffic to an industrial siding is profitable. In fact, "if you spend time examining railroad costing as a profession, you find that plenty of carload commodities offer the railroads higher margins than a lot of the supposedly core intermodal traffic." And railroads can expect coal, oil, and grain business to decline as power plants switch to gas, pipelines get built, and grain consumers retaliate in a tariff war. The article argues that railroad executives need to learn how to resurrect their carload business. But then it notes that many towns no longer have tail service and new factories and warehouses have been built next to interstates instead of railroads. His ending is basically a big question mark:
That decision of how to execute and how to invest is in the first instance the role of the seven Class 1 railroad managers and their boards of directors. What is their strategic outlook and level of confidence? How much CAPEX might that take? Who is going to be the first to deliver that longer term picture for the upcoming decade or two?Speaking of tariff wars, this article indicates that truckers want an exception to a tariff on container chassis because US doesn't have enough capacity. But the chassis manufactures claim they could ramp up to meet the demand in a year in "a fairly traded market." A tariff exception was granted for containers on Aug 15, 2019.
UP has announced that they are closing Canalport, Global 1 and 3. They did close the hump in Proviso so that they could expand Global 2. Closing intermodal yards means more trucks on the area's interstate highways.
And UP and NS are dumping interchange containers onto the highways in Chicago and Memphis markets. CSX already gave up on steel-wheel interchange.