Intermodal is a function of the spread between the cost of shipping by rail vs road. I think it's probably fair to say that rail will always be slower unless really dramatically change (cross-continental high speed freight rail?).The thing that I struggle to understand is why AEVs wouldn't lead to more intermodal shipping. If you remove the driver and lower fuel costs, then return is entirely about asset utilization. Why send one container on one truck across the country when you can have that truck pick up containers and drop them off at the transloading terminal in town all day, increasing utilization?
There may be high value JIT goods that justify a single truck driving across the continent by itself. But for a lot of commodities, I imagine rail and trucking companies can leverage automation and lower fuel cost to improve the speed and efficiency of transloaded shipments across North America.
The closer we get to full automation, the closer we get to physics dictating operating costs. And there will be some threshold distance where steel on steel beats rubber on asphalt.
CN clearly thinks that autonomous trucks are a relevant business to them, perhaps as a complement or competitive threat. They are invested in TuSimple.