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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Glass half-empty: U.S. roads register traffic declines in '08; glass half-full: volume reaches fourth-highest total


Last year wasn’t a good one for U.S. railroads’ traffic, but it wasn’t a horrible one, either. Despite a sharp volume downturn in the fourth quarter — especially in December — they registered their fourth-highest amount of freight traffic. Only volume totals in 2005, 2006 and 2007 bested 2008.

U.S. roads originated 16.6 million carloads, down 2.2 percent, and 11.5 million intermodal loads, down 4.2 percent compared with 2007 totals, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR). Fifteen of 19 commodity groups posted year-over-year declines, with the largest drops in coke (32.3 percent), motor vehicles and equipment (21.2 percent), and crushed stone, sand and gravel (8.8 percent).

In the fourth quarter, U.S. railroads’ carloads declined 8.2 percent to 3.9 million units and intermodal volume dropped 7.7 percent to 2.8 million units; in December, their carloads plummeted 14.2 percent to 1.3 million units and intermodal loads fell 13.7 percent to 890,133 units.

“It’s not surprising that U.S. rail traffic in December and the fourth quarter was down so much — we all know that the economy is in a world of hurt right now,” said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray in a prepared statement.

It wasn’t a banner year for Canadian railroads, either. Their carloads decreased 6.3 percent to 3.8 million units compared with 2007’s total. But the roads’ intermodal volume increased 1.4 percent to 2.5 million units.

In the fourth quarter, Canadian railroads originated 879,599 carloads, down 12.3 percent, and 585,337 intermodal loads, down 6.5 percent year over year; in December, their carloads plummeted 19.8 percent to 275,824 units and intermodal volume dropped 13.4 percent to 178,437 units.

On a combined cumulative-volume basis through 2008, 12 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads originated 20.3 million carloads, down 3 percent, and 14 million containers and trailers, down 3.3 percent vs. 2007 totals.

In Mexico, Kansas City Southern de México S.A. de C.V. last year carried a total of 520,364 carloads, down 7.9 percent, and 260,399 intermodal loads, up 6.6 percent compared with 2007’s totals. In December, the road’s carloads fell 21.1 percent to 37,766 units and intermodal loads declined 12.1 percent to 18,160 units.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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