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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

AAR: Intermodal gains continue to prop up U.S. traffic levels

U.S. railroads began September much as they ended August: with a gain in intermodal traffic and a drop in carloads. For the week ending Sep. 5, they handled 287,339 carloads, down 0.4 percent, and 279,867 containers and trailers, up 17 percent compared with volumes from the same week last year, according to the Association of American Railroads.

Total weekly U.S. traffic reached 567,206 units, up 8 percent. Seven of 10 carload commodity groups posted gains, led by motor vehicles and parts at 19.5 percent, miscellaneous carloads at 18.3 percent and grain at 9.6 percent.

Canadian railroads reported 74,949 carloads for the week, down 6.9 percent, and 64,015 intermodal units, up 14.7 percent year over year. Mexican railroads' weekly carloads rose 9.6 percent to 16,310 units, but their intermodal volume fell 5.2 percent to 11,415 units.

Through 2015's first 35 weeks, volume from 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 24,868,191 carloads and intermodal loads, down 0.3 percent year over year. For the period, U.S. railroads reported 9,750,275 carloads, down 4.1 percent, and 9,331,154 intermodal units, up 3 percent.

U.S. intermodal traffic might continue to build since import volume at major container ports is projected to increase 1.2 percent in September as retailers continue to prep for the holiday season, according to the latest Global Port Tracker report released by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

September volume is forecasted at 1.61 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs). The report projects October volume at 1.62 million TEUs, which would represent a 3.8 percent year-over-year gain; November volume at 1.5 million TEUs, a 7.9 percent increase; and December volume at 1.44 million TEUs, a 0.2 percent decline. Those totals would boost overall 2015 volume to 18.2 million TEUs, or a 5.4 percent gain versus last year.

"After supply chain worries earlier this year, inventories are plentiful this fall," said NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold in a press release. "Shoppers should have no worries about finding what they’re looking for as they begin their holiday shopping."

The report also pegs January 2016 volume to clock in at 1.44 million TEUs, which would represent a 16.9 percent rise from the weak figure logged a year earlier, just before West Coast dockworkers agreed on a new contract that ended a months-long labor dispute at major ports.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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