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Rail News: Intermodal

U.S. roads ring up fewer carloads and intermodal loads in March, AAR says


As the first quarter drew to a close, U.S. railroads’ traffic continued to lose ground to 2006 levels. In March, their carloads fell 3.4 percent to 1.3 million units and intermodal volume tumbled 1.4 percent to 908,109 units compared with the same 2006 period, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

“Intermodal units [were] pressured by softness in domestic trailers, given supply/demand imbalances in the truckload sector and timing issues relating to the later Chinese New Year (Feb. 18, 2007 vs. Jan. 19, 2006),” said Banc of America Securities analyst Scott Flower in the firm’s weekly rail traffic report.

During the first quarter, U.S. railroads originated 4.1 million carloads, down 4.9 percent, and 3 million intermodal loads, up 0.2 percent — the traffic segment’s 20th-straight quarterly gain.

Total estimated quarterly volume of 419.2 billion ton-miles decreased 3.6 percent compared with first-quarter 2006. Motor vehicles and equipment carloads plummeted 13.7 percent; crushed stone, sand, and gravel carloads declined 13 percent; and grain carloads fell 7.7 percent.

“Overall freight transportation demand is down a bit,” said AAR Vice President Craig Rockey in a prepared statement. “The low demand for building products (in part because of housing weakness), difficult times for the auto industry, and severe spring snows and flooding in the West, which halted coal mining, have left their mark on rail volumes.”

Canadian railroads fared better in March. Strong metallic ore, chemical and grain demand helped boost originated carloads 1.9 percent to 324,910 units, while rising intermodal demand helped increase volume 4.9 percent to 187,350 units compared with March 2006 data.

During the first quarter, Canadian railroads originated 981,789 carloads, down 2.7 percent, and 568,006 trailers and containers, up 1.2 percent compared with last year.

On a combined cumulative-volume basis through 13 weeks, 13 U.S. and Canadian railroads reported a total of 5.1 million carloads, down 4.5 percent, and 3.5 million intermodal loads, up 0.3 percent compared with 2006’s first 13 weeks.

In Mexico, Kansas City Southern de México S. de R.L. de C.V.’s March carloads totaled 45,393 units, a 4.7 percent decrease compared with March 2006. However, intermodal units carried increased 3.7 percent to 16,469 units. Through the first quarter, the railroad’s carloads carried dropped 6.4 percent while intermodal units carried rose 7.1 percent compared with first-quarter 2006.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 4/9/2007