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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

AAR: Average weekly intermodal volume reached third-highest January level

In January, U.S. carloads totaled 1.1 million units, up 0.1 percent compared with January 2011 volume, according to the Association of American Railroads’ (AAR) “Rail Time Indicators” report. Carloads averaged 286,200 units per week.

Intermodal volume reached 877,637 containers and trailers, up 1.7 percent year over year. January’s average of 219,409 intermodal units per week was the third-highest mark for a January, the report states.
Significant gains were registered by metallic ores at 29.3 percent, petroleum products at 22.3 percent, motor vehicles and parts at 18.3 percent, and crushed stone, gravel and sand at 11.7 percent. But carloads declined 15.4 percent for grain, 2.4 percent for coal and 2.3 percent for chemicals.
“A number of commodity categories — including many that have historically been much more highly correlated with GDP growth than coal and grain — saw large increases in January,” said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray in a prepared statement. “That’s a sign that the underlying economy is probably stronger than you would think if you just looked at the rail traffic totals.”
For the week ending Jan. 28, U.S. carloads fell 2.8 percent to 283,654 units and intermodal volume rose 5.5 percent to 235,028 units; Canadian carloads climbed 5.4 percent to 75,427 units and intermodal volume increased 2.4 percent to 46,916 units; and Mexican carloads dropped 6.5 percent to 14,065 units and intermodal volume jumped 32.9 percent to 9,712 units.

Eastern U.S. railroads’ intermodal volume continued to outpace Western railroads, given “secular conversion opportunity from truck to rail,” Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc. analysts said in their weekly “Rail Flash” report. During recent fourth-quarter reporting, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Corp. and Union Pacific Railroad management “all expressed an optimistic outlook for domestic intermodal volumes in 2012,” although growth likely will slow from 2011’s 10-plus percent gain, they said.
Through 2012’s first four weeks, 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads originated 1.5 million carloads, up 0.3 percent, and 1.1 million containers and trailers, up 2.5 percent year over year.

For more AAR traffic data for January and the week ending Jan. 28, follow this link.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/3/2012