The volume of U.S. carloads and intermodal loads declined in March's last week, a major reason traffic was mixed for the month, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).
For the week ending March 30, U.S. railroads originated 281,367 carloads, down 1.9 percent, and 233,587 intermodal units, down 3.8 percent compared with volumes from the same week last year. Carloads originated in March dipped 0.5 percent to 1,117,427 units while intermodal volume in the month ratcheted up 0.5 percent to 933,208 units — the smallest year-over-year monthly gain for intermodal since August 2011, AAR officials said in traffic summary.
Carloads excluding coal and grain rose 3.4 percent in March, and seven of 20 commodity categories posted gains. Petroleum and petroleum products volume jumped 54.3 percent, crushed stone, gravel and sand carloads climbed 11.9 percent, and motor vehicles and parts traffic rose 6.1 percent, while grain carloads tumbled 20.1 percent, metallic ores volume fell 13.2 percent and coal loads dipped 2 percent.
"U.S. rail traffic continues to mirror the overall economy: not great, not terrible, anticipating a better future," said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray. "Petroleum and petroleum products continues to lead traffic gains, while coal and grain have seen better days. Intermodal volume … [registered] the highest-volume March in history and built on even stronger gains earlier in the quarter."
Coal traffic continues to slump because utilities' inventories remain elevated, according to Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.'s latest "Rail Flash" report. Powder River Basin inventories are averaging 76 days, above the five-year average of 60 days, and northern Appalachia inventories are averaging 60 days, or about the five-year average, Baird analysts said.
Meanwhile, Canadian railroads for March's final week reported 80,227 carloads, up 0.5 percent, and 47,127 intermodal units, down 10.5 percent year over year. Mexican railroads' carloads fell 6.3 percent to 13,948 units and their intermodal volume tumbled 13.9 percent to 7,839 units.
Through 2013's first 13 weeks, 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads handled 4,770,914 carloads, down 1.5 percent, and 3,863,824 containers and trailers, up 5 percent compared with the same 2012 period.
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