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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

AAR on April traffic: A record for U.S. intermodal, a red mark for U.S. carloads


Weak coal and grain traffic negatively impacted total U.S. carloadings in April while intermodal traffic continued to gain momentum. For the month, carloads totaled 1,108,722, down 0.4 percent, and intermodal volume reached 962,019 units, up 1.6 percent compared with April 2012 levels, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

April's weekly average of 240,505 containers and trailers was the highest for any April in history, AAR officials said in a press release. And more intermodal gains could be on the horizon later this year. During Union Pacific Railroad's first-quarter earnings conference on April 18, senior executives said they expected the 2013 peak season to exceed that of 2012, although they noted it's still early in the year, Robert W Baird & Co. Inc. analysts said in their weekly "Rail Flash" report.

"CSX has identified 9 million addressable truckloads that could be converted to intermodal in the East, while in the West, BNSF believes there are 9.2 million truckloads available for conversion to intermodal," they said.

But on the carload side of the U.S. traffic equation, only nine of 20 major commodity categories posted gains in April, led by petroleum and petroleum products (46.4 percent), crushed stone, gravel and sand (11.5 percent), and coke (10.1 percent). Grain traffic fell 17.1 percent, coal loads dipped 0.7 percent, metallic ores volume plunged 26.5 percent and primary metal products traffic declined 8.1 percent.

The weekly average for grain carloads fell to 16,345 — the lowest weekly average for grain in any month on record, dating back to 1988, AAR officials said. The weekly average for coal carloads at 106,679 was the lowest for any month since July 1993. Carloads excluding coal and grain increased 2 percent.

"Coal and grain carloads remain depressed, but by and large rail traffic in April was consistent with an economy that's continuing to grow, albeit slowly," said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray. "There's nothing in the traffic data to indicate that a sharp economic slowdown is imminent. On the other hand, there's nothing to indicate that a dramatic uptick in economic growth is imminent, either."

Canadian railroads in April originated 329,208 carloads, up 2.9 percent, and 215,607 intermodal loads, up 2.1 percent year over year.

For the week ending April 27, U.S. railroads reported a 2.6 percent drop in carloads to 275,638 and a 2.1 percent rise in intermodal loads to 247,569. Canadian carloads inched up 0.8 percent to 81,657 and intermodal volume rose 1.5 percent to 54,221 units, while Mexican carloads ratcheted up 2.4 percent to 15,520 and intermodal volume tumbled 11.7 percent to 8,937 units.

Through 2013's first 17 weeks, 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads handled 6,269,706 carloads, down 1 percent, and 5,078,173 containers and trailers, up 4.2 percent compared with the same 2012 period.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 5/3/2013