The year-long pattern of mixed traffic levels for U.S. railroads continued in the year's 50th week. For the week ending Dec. 15, they reported 292,640 carloads, down 3.9 percent, and 251,985 intermodal loads, up 8 percent compared with volumes from the same week last year, according to the Association of American Railroads.
Twelve of 20 carload commodity groups posted gains, led by petroleum products (50.1 percent), lumber and wood products (22.9 percent), and motor vehicles and equipment (13.6 percent). Nonmetallic minerals volume tumbled 20.4 percent, coal loads dropped 13.2 percent and grain carloads declined 11.3 percent.
Utilities' elevated inventories remain a significant headwind to fourth-quarter coal volumes and weaker export coal trends also are weighing on eastern railroads' coal franchises, Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc. analysts said in their latest "Rail Flash" report. But at least a recent U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) report shows the coal outlook is a tad better.
The EIA estimates 2013 coal production in the eastern/interior region will decrease 5 percent on a year-over-year basis versus the previous estimate of a 6 percent drop, Baird analysts said. Western coal production is projected to increase 3 percent and exports are forecasted to fall 16 percent, which is consistent with commentary from publicly owned railroads, they said.
Meanwhile, Canadian railroads reported 79,546 carloads for the week ending Dec. 15, up 3 percent year over year. Their intermodal volume rose 7.7 percent to 52,872 units. Mexican railroads' weekly carloads climbed 10.7 percent to 15,081 units and intermodal volume increased 4.5 percent to 8,894 units.
Through 2012's first 50 weeks, 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads handled 18,773,697 carloads, down 1.8 percent, and 14,964,117 containers and trailers, up 4.3 percent compared with data from the same 2011 period.
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