Thursday, October 04, 2012

Mixed U.S. freight picture persists, AAR reports

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U.S. freight carload traffic continued its sluggish performance during the week ending Sept. 29, down 5.3% compared with the same week in 2011, the Association of American Railroads said Thursday. U.S. intermodal volume continued its counterbalancing role during the week, up 2.5% compared with a year ago.

AAR noted that the week's U.S. intermodal originations of 257,225 represent the highest weekly total of the year and the third highest weekly intermodal total ever.

AAR also said 14 of the 20 carload commodity groups it measures posted increases compared with the same week in 2011, an improvement (by number of commodities) from past weeks. Petroleum products, up 59.4%, led gainers, followed by iron and steel scrap, up 16.6%, and crushed stone, sand, and gravel, up 14.7%. Declining commodities included metallic ores, down 19.6%, coal, down 17.3%, and waste and nonferrous scrap, down 11.3%.

Canadian freight carload volume for the week ending Sept. 29 continued its winning streak, up 1.3% compared with the same week last year. Canadian intermodal volume rose a stellar 6.4% compared with a year ago. Mexican freight carload volume also advanced, up 1.7% for the week measured against the same week a year ago, while Mexican intermodal soared 18.1%.

Combined North American freight carload volume for the first 39 weeks of 2012 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican was down 1.4% compared with the same point last year, while combined North American intermodal was up 4.6%.

AAR Thursday, also released full-month September results, affirming U.S. freight carload volume's struggles (down 3.7% for the month) compared with the same month a year ago. U.S. intermodal volume for September was up 2.5% compared with September 2011; AAR said that notched "the 34th straight month of intermodal gains."

Perhaps not surprisingly, petroleum and petroleum products, up 55.7%, led commodity gainers during the month.

"September rail traffic is again a mix of good news and bad news," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. "The primary bad news is that coal carloads continue to struggle, due to the various economic and regulatory constraints faced by coal-fired power plants. The good news is that many other key rail traffic categories are offsetting coal's decline, including petroleum and petroleum products, motor vehicles, crushed stone and sand, and lumber. Intermodal volume has risen for 34 straight months and could very well set a new record this year."