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U.S. intermodal gains stretched to 34th straight month in September, AAR says

In September, U.S. carloads totaled 1,152,174, down 3.7 percent, while intermodal volume totaled 973,715 units, up 2.5 percent compared with September 2011 levels, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR). Intermodal traffic posted a gain for the 34th straight month.

On the upside in the carload sector, petroleum and petroleum products volume soared 55.7 percent, crushed stone, sand and gravel carloads climbed 12.3 percent, and motor vehicles and parts shipments rose 5.3 percent year over year. But metallic ores volume plunged 21.7 percent, waste and nonferrous scrap shipments fell 13.3 percent, and coal carloads dipped 12.1 percent. Excluding coal, U.S. carloads increased 3.4 percent.

"September rail traffic is again a mix of good news and bad news," said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray in a prepared statement. "The primary bad news is that coal carloads continue to struggle, due to the various economic and regulatory constraints faced by coal-fired power plants. The good news is that many other key rail traffic categories are offsetting coal's decline, including petroleum and petroleum products, motor vehicles, crushed stone and sand, and lumber."

In the third quarter, U.S. agricultural products volume was flat year over year after registering four consecutive quarters of contraction, according to Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.'s latest "Rail Flash" report. Solid growth posted by BNSF Railway Co. (plus 5 percent), CN (plus 7 percent) and Norfolk Southern Railway (plus 4 percent) offset declines registered by other railroads, Baird analysts said in the report.

For the week ending Sept. 29, U.S. railroads originated 295,243 carloads, down 5.3 percent, and 257,225 containers and trailers, up 2.5 percent compared with volumes from the same week last year, according to the AAR.

Canadian railroads reported 82,983 carloads for the week, up 1.3 percent, as well as 54,995 containers and trailers, up 6.4 percent. Mexican railroads' weekly carloads inched up 1.7 percent to 14,675 units and intermodal volume jumped 16 percent to 12,115 units.

Through 2012's first 39 weeks, 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads originated 14,606,519 carloads, down 1.4 percent, and 11,592,345 containers and trailers, up 4.6 percent compared with volumes from the same 2011 period, according to the AAR.

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