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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

August freight traffic continues railroads' year-long dreary refrain


The down tick now has reached eight months; U.S. rail carload traffic in August was off 1.8 percent (31,596 carloads) compared with August 2000, according to Association of American Railroads data released Sept. 6.

And for 2001's first eight months, U.S. railroads' 11,607,686 carloads dipped 1.4 percent (161,600 carloads) compared with a similar period last year.

"The economic downturn, which is particularly pronounced in the U.S. industrial sector, has depressed rail traffic levels for many months," said AAR Vice President Craig Rockey in a prepared statement. "Unfortunately, the August traffic figures provide no meaningful evidence that the economy has begun to turn around."

Even U.S. intermodal volume — long a rail-sector stronghold — declined 1.6 percent last month, or 15,245 fewer trailers and containers compared with August 2000. And of 19 major carload commodity categories tracked by AAR, declines were registered in 13 and increases in only six . The declines include coal carloads, which for the first time in 2001 dropped — 0.9 percent or 6,075 carloads.

"Cooler temperatures and temporary problems at some mines have negatively affected coal output over the past month or two," said Rockey.

For 2001's first 35 weeks, U.S. rails registered intermodal volume of 5,947,926 trailers and containers, down 2.9 percent, and total volume of an estimated 982.2 billion ton-miles, off 0.1 percent, compared with a similar 2000 period.

Meanwhile, Canadian railroads experienced a similar August; carload traffic dipped 2 percent (6,176 carloads) and intermodal traffic, 0.1 percent (135 trailers and containers), compared with August 2000.

However, unlike their American counterparts, Canadian roads' coal carloads last month rose 7.2 percent (2,817 carloads).

For 2001's first eight months, Canadian railroads registered 2,160,376 carloads, down 1.6 percent (34,079 carloads), 1,221,206 trailers and containers, up 2.3 percent (27,587 trailers and containers), compared with a similar 2000 period.

On a combined cumulative-volume basis, 16 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads through 2001's first 35 weeks totaled 13,768,062 carloads, down 1.4 percent (195,679 carloads), and 7,169,132 trailers and containers, off 2 percent (147,696 trailers and containers), compared with 2000's first 35 weeks.