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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

AAR: Weak grain, coal carloads weighed down U.S. traffic in July

Add July to U.S. railroads' mixed-traffic-result file for 2013. The roads last month originated 1,384,742 carloads, down 0.5 percent, and 1,218,625 intermodal loads, up 2.5 percent compared with July 2012 figures, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

On the encouraging side, U.S. railroads set a new July record for average weekly intermodal volume at 243,725 units, and 13 of 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR posted gains, led by petroleum and petroleum products at 24.9 percent, iron and steel scrap at 19.4 percent, and crushed stone, gravel and sand at 11.7 percent.

On the discouraging front, grain and coal traffic — which historically account for about half of U.S. railroads' tonnage and 30 percent of their revenue — declined 9.5 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively. Excluding coal and grain, total U.S. carloads rose 3.5 percent.

Grain and coal traffic's importance to railroads is hard to overstate, but that said, those sectors are down for reasons "that have little or nothing to do with the state of the economy," said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray in a press release.

"The remaining rail traffic segments are mixed, reflecting an economy that's moving in the right direction but not firing on all cylinders," he said.

For the week ending Aug. 3, a rise in industrial products traffic (7 percent), and carload growth in chemicals (5 percent) and automotive (3 percent), helped offset volume declines in agricultural products (9 percent) and coal (4 percent), according to Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.'s weekly "Rail Flash" report. Overall, U.S. carloads dipped 0.4 percent to 287,372 units and intermodal volume climbed 4.8 percent to 255,024 units.

Canadian railroads' weekly carloads ratcheted up 0.3 percent to 77,847 units and their intermodal volume rose 5 percent to 55,887 units, while Mexican railroads' carloads jumped 14.9 percent to 16,842 units and intermodal volume decreased 4.5 percent to 10,425 units.

Through 2013's first 31 weeks, 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads handled 11,487,751 carloads, down 0.4 percent, and 9,419,889 containers and trailers, up 3.4 percent compared with the same 2012 period.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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