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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

U.S. roads' intermodal volume, carloads reach record lows in November, AAR says

There are bad months and all-time-bad months. November fell into the latter category for U.S. rail traffic. Railroads originated 1.2 million carloads, down 10.1 percent, and 851,517 intermodal loads, down 7.9 percent compared with November 2007’s totals, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

The drops in both traffic segments “are by far the largest monthly declines since we started keeping track of monthly traffic in 1997 — and probably since well before then," said AAR Vice President John Gray in a prepared statement. "Railroads join with everyone else in hoping that this economic downturn changes course sooner rather than later."

Commodities registering the largest carload declines include metals and metal products (down 39.6 percent), motor vehicles and equipment (down 32.7 percent), grain (down 16.6 percent) and chemicals (down 16.3 percent).

Through 2008’s first 11 months, U.S. railroads originated 15.5 million carloads, down 1.4 percent, and 10.8 million containers and trailers, down 3.5 percent compared with totals from the same 2007 period. Total volume fell 0.3 percent to an estimated 1.62 trillion ton-miles.

Canadian railroads had a trying month, too, as carloads fell in nearly every category. Their carloads dropped 12.3 percent to 281,416 units and intermodal volume decreased 7.7 percent to 186,447 units compared with November 2007’s totals. Through 11 months, Canadian railroads originated 3.6 million carloads, down 5.4 percent, and 2.3 million intermodal loads, up 2.5 percent vs. totals from the same period last year.

On a combined cumulative-volume basis through 11 months, 12 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads originated 19 million carloads, down 2.1 percent, and 13 million containers and trailers, down 2.4 percent year over year.

In Mexico, Kansas City Southern de México S.A. de C.V.’s carloads in November totaled 37,347 units, down 17.7 percent, and intermodal volume totaled 21,547 units, down 2.5 percent compared with November 2007 totals. Through 11 months, the railroad’s total carloads decreased 7.1 percent to 487,874 units, but intermodal volume rose 8.1 percent to 244,109 units.

Meanwhile, the AAR has released the 2008 edition of “Railroad Facts.” The publication contains more than 80 pages of facts and statistics on U.S. railroads’ finances, operations, plant and equipment, employment and compensation, and fuel consumption and expenses. Railroad Facts includes data for 2007 and selected prior years — in some cases as far back as 1929.

The publication also contains a profile of each Class I (including the two in Canada), Amtrak and Mexico’s two largest railroads.

Non-AAR members can purchase one copy of Railroad Facts for $18; two to 10 copies for $15 each; or more than 10 copies for $13 each. AAR members can buy multiple copies for $5 each. To order copies, visit the AAR’s Web site at and click on “store/publications.”

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 12/5/2008