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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

North American railroads notched traffic gains in March

U.S. railroads’ traffic log for March shows they made progress in easing the network congestion caused by severe winter weather. For the month, they registered 1,156,697 carloads, up 3.5 percent, and 1,025,907 containers and trailers, up 9.9 percent compared with March 2013 volumes, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

The weekly average of 256,477 intermodal units was the highest for any March and fourth-highest for any month in history, AAR officials said in a press release. In addition, intermodal volume now has marked 52 straight weeks of year-over-year gains.

"Solid intermodal growth [in March] could indicate that backlogs that developed as a result of the severe winter weather are unwinding and networks are becoming more fluid, which would be consistent with our channel checks," said Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc. analysts in their "Rail Flash" report. "While we heard some anecdotes of intermodal volumes that shifted to truck, the solid growth in March could also be indicative of pent-up intermodal demand."

In terms of carloads, 11 of 20 commodity categories posted increases in March, led by grain at 21.2 percent, petroleum and petroleum products at 8.2 percent, crushed stone, sand and gravel at 5.6 percent, and coal at 2.2 percent. Iron and steel scrap carloads fell 13.7 percent, metallic ores volume tumbled 7.1 percent, and steel and other primary metal products traffic dipped 2.1 percent. Excluding coal and grain, carloads rose 2.9 percent.

"U.S. rail traffic rebounded strongly in March following a sub-par February. Grain led the way, as railroads are working hard to move the biggest grain harvest in history," said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray. "In addition, coal carloads rose in March, something that’s happened just one other time in the past two years."

For the week ending March 29, U.S. railroads originated 301,317 carloads, up 7.2 percent, and 265,188 intermodal loads, up 13.5 percent year over year. Canadian railroads reported a 1.3 percent gain in weekly carloads to 81,233 units and an 18.9 percent jump in intermodal volume to 55,945 units, while Mexican railroads reported a 9.5 percent increase in carloads to 15,958 units and a 21.9 percent climb in intermodal volume to 9,927 units.

Through 2014’s first 13 weeks, 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads handled 4,735,404 carloads, down 0.7 percent, and 3,995,910 containers and trailers, up 3.3 percent compared with the same 2013 period.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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