AAR said only seven of the 20 carload commodity groups it measures posted increases compared with the same week in 2011. Among those gaining, petroleum products advanced 22.6%, metals and products rose 19.3%, and lumber and wood products moved up 16.4%. Leading the numerous declining commodities were farm products excluding grain, down 20.5%, and coal, down 16.6%.
Canadian freight carload volume for the week ending March 3 did better than the U.S. counterpart, up 8.3% compared with the same week last year, while Canadian intermodal also rose, up 7.0%. Mexican freight carload volume for the week slipped 1.8%, but Mexican intermodal advanced 9.4%.
Combined North American rail volume for the first nine weeks of 2012 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads was up a modest 0.2% measured against the comparable period in 2011, while intermodal fared better, up 3.2% compared with last year's first nine weeks.
AAR also noted U.S. freight carload traffic for the month of February fell 1.9%, while U.S. intermodal volume for the month rose 2.4%. February's average of 224,492 intermodal units per week was the third-highest ever for a February for U.S. railroads, AAR noted.
"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 T. 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. Time will tell, but we're hopeful it's a sign of broad-based improvement in economic conditions."