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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

AAR: U.S intermodal volume rose, carloads fell in February


In February, U.S. railroads originated 1,410,992 carloads, down 1.9 percent, and 1,122,458 containers and trailers, up 2.4 percent compared with volumes from February 2011, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR). Fourteen of 20 commodity groups registered gains while the weekly average of 224,492 intermodal units in the month was the third-highest on record for a February, AAR officials said in a prepared statement.

“If you exclude carloads of coal and grain, which are down for reasons that have little to do with the state of the economy, rail traffic in February was encouraging,” said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray. "Intermodal traffic was up for the 27th straight month, while carloads of a wide range of commodities — lumber, chemicals, petroleum, paper, steel and more — saw increases in February.”
For the week ending March 3, U.S. carloads declined 6.2 percent to 283,312 units, but intermodal volume climbed 6 percent to 227,256 units on a year-over-year basis. Only seven of 20 carload commodity groups posted gains.

Coal traffic tumbled 15 percent and isn’t showing signs of an uptick, according to Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.’s latest “Rail Flash” report.

“We expect coal weakness to continue as we enter the ‘shoulder’ months, a time when weather warms and inventories typically build. However, already-elevated stockpiles will temper traditional spring shipment volumes,” Baird analysts said in the report.

However, agricultural products traffic — which inched up 1 percent in the week ending March 3 — is “turning positive” while still trending below seasonal averages, they said. The near-term outlook for ag exports has improved primarily because of lower bulk ocean shipping rate trends so far in 2012 and weaker South American harvest expectations, Baird analysts said.
Meanwhile, Canadian railroads in the week ending March 3 increased carloads 8.3 percent to 76,253 units and boosted intermodal volume 7 percent to 46,645 units. Mexican railroads’ carloads dipped 1.8 percent to 13,965 units but their intermodal volume climbed 9.4 percent to 7,880 units.

Through 2012’s first nine weeks, 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads originated 3,350,362 carloads, up 0.2 percent, and 2,512,833 containers and trailers, up 3.2 percent compared with volumes from the same 2011 period.

For more AAR traffic data for February, the week ending March 3 and through nine weeks, follow this link.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/9/2012