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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

March traffic at 'kick them when they're down' levels for U.S. roads, AAR says


Forget about “in like a lion, out like a lamb.” U.S. railroads’ traffic never reached the lion stage in March. Their originated carloads totaling 1.1 million units plunged 17.3 percent and intermodal volume totaling 729,033 units fell 14.9 percent compared with March 2008 totals, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

"A blizzard in the Wyoming coal fields, flooding in the Midwest and other weather-related problems added a 'kick them when they're down' element to the month, dropping already depressed rail traffic levels even further in March," said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray in a prepared statement.

In the first quarter, U.S. carloadings plummeted 16.3 percent to 3.3 million units and intermodal traffic dropped 15.5 percent to 2.2 million units vs. first-quarter 2008 figures. Total volume declined 15.2 percent to an estimated 345.8 billion ton-miles.

In Canada, railroads’ March carloads tumbled 21.7 percent to 241,681 units and intermodal volume dropped 13.3 percent to 157,782 units. For the quarter, their carloadings plunged 19.5 percent to 741,877 units and intermodal loads fell 12.1 percent to 490,410 units.

During the week ending March 28, U.S. and Canadian roads’ carloads declined 24.4 percent and 24.7 percent, respectively. U.S. roads’ intermodal volume decreased 15.4 percent and Canadian roads’ volume dropped 16.3 percent.

Class Is’ traffic declines in 2009’s 12th week were the “most severe seen” in any week this year, said Stifel Nicolaus analyst John Larkin in a Transportation & Logistics Research Group report. But volumes should begin to increase slightly in the near term, he said.

“Our models project 8.4 percent average volume declines for the Class Is in 2009,” Larkin wrote. “Therefore, we expect volume comparisons to become less negative as the year progresses due to easing comparables, inventory restocking, and possibly some impact from government spending and stimulus.”

For more breakdowns of North American freight-rail traffic to date, follow this link.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 4/3/2009