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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

AAR, USDOT data show freight flows on way up after steep fall


U.S. railroads’ carloadings plummeted to the lowest of low points last year — as in a 21-year low. Yesterday, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) announced U.S. carloads, which fell 16.1 percent vs. 2008 to 13.8 million units, reached their lowest level since 1988. Intermodal traffic fared only slightly better, dropping 14.1 percent year-over-year to 9.9 million units, the lowest volume since 2002.

At least U.S. railroads ended 2009 on a promising note: Carloads fell only 4.1 percent and intermodal volume rose 2.5 percent in December.

“Railroads are happy to have 2009 behind them,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John Gray in a prepared statement. “Last year saw declines, most of them quite steep, in every major category of rail carload traffic. However, we’re seeing signs that the economy is improving.”

Transportation forecasting firm FTR Associates agrees. In its January “Rails Ahead” newsletter, the firm raised its 2010 projection for rail carloads to a 4.6 percent gain vs. 2009.

“We expect to see comparisons turn modestly positive in the first quarter, and then accelerate later in the year,” said FTR President Eric Starks. “We will remain cautious about our outlook for all transportation segments in the short term, but we are confident that the worst is over.”

The Transportation Services Index (TSI) indicates it might be. November’s index of 99.0 rose 1 percent from October’s level, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). However, the index declined 5.8 percent year over year, falling to the lowest November mark since 2001.

November’s Freight TSI of 96.2 increased 1.8 percent from October’s level, the first month-over-month gain after two-straight declines. But the index dropped 6.8 percent on a year-over-year basis, falling to the lowest November level since November 1996’s 89.6. November’s Passenger TSI of 108.8 declined 1.4 percent from October’s level and 2.7 percent from November 2008’s index.

For more BTS data on the TSIs in November and through 2009’s first 11 months, follow this link.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/14/2010