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AAR: Coal and grain drops aside, September gains a 'hopeful sign' for U.S. traffic

U.S. rail traffic made strides in September, according to Association of American Railroads (AAR) data released yesterday. Originated carloads ratcheted up 0.7 percent to 1,159,784 units and intermodal loads rose 4.4 percent to 1,027,522 units compared with September 2012 totals.

Intermodal traffic nearly reached all-time levels. The weekly average of 256,881 intermodal units was the second-highest monthly average in history, and the three highest-volume weeks for U.S. railroads occurred last month — only the Labor Day holiday prevented September from being the highest-volume month for intermodal, AAR officials said in a press release.

On the carload side, 11 of 20 commodity categories posted gains, led by  motor vehicles and parts (12 percent), petroleum and petroleum products (10.4 percent), and crushed stone, sand and gravel (10 percent). Grain and coal volumes declined 11.3 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively. Excluding coal and grain, U.S. carloads climbed 4.9 percent in September.

"Those who follow the rail industry know that carloads of grain and coal can rise or fall by substantial amounts for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the state of the economy," said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray. "Not so with most other rail traffic categories, however. The fact that rail carloads excluding coal and grain were up … in September — the biggest year-over-year monthly gain since last December — is a hopeful sign."

For the week ending Sept. 28, U.S. railroads originated 296,809 carloads, up 0.5 percent, and 269,853 intermodal loads, up 2.9 percent; Canadian railroads reported 86,685 carloads, up 4.4 percent, and 58,248 intermodal units, up 6 percent; and Mexican railroads reported 14,716 carloads, up 0.3 percent, and 12,441 intermodal units, up 2.7 percent compared with the same week last year.

Through 2013's first 39 weeks, 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads handled 14,593,885 carloads, down 0.1 percent, and 12,025,811 containers and trailers, up 3.6 percent year over year.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/4/2013