Intermodal volume, fueled by continued import growth, rose 0.6% in the fourth quarter, wrapping up the fifth consecutive year of record traffic.

The fourth-quarter results, including a 4.3% increase in international traffic, showed that volume reached 3.58 million shipments, according to the Intermodal Association of North America’s Market Trends & Statistics report. The fourth-quarter total was the third-highest ever for any quarter, exceeded only by the second and third quarters of 2006. For the full year, volume rose 4.3% to 14.2 million shipments. The last time that annual volume declined from year to year was in 2001.

The quarterly report, which contains detailed, exclusive market information, included increases in four of the nine IANA regions, including the Midwest and Southwest, which together accounted for 51% of total volume. Traffic also rose in Western Canada and the South Central regions.

Domestic container traffic increased 4.9% in the quarter, reflecting the continuing trend of growth in that equipment type. Trailer business fell 15%, in part because railroads converted freight to containers that can be double-stacked.

Fourth-quarter volume growth was the slowest in 2006, following increases of 4.9%, 5.9% and 6.3% in the previous three quarters. Demand leveled off during the latter portion of the year. Traffic in October, 2006 trailed August, which was the busiest month ever for intermodal traffic with 1.3 million units moved. Until last year, October was the busiest single month in every year since 1996.

For the full year, domestic volume rose to 5.73 million. International volume increased 7.5% to 8.51 million loads, and now represents 60% of total intermodal volume. The percentage of intermodal freight that is international was 58% last year, and 53% in 2002.