Thursday, June 06, 2013

AAR: Good week, and month, for U.S. rail freight

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Solid U.S. rail freight traffic growth marked the last week of May—ending June 1, 2013, as measured by the Association of American Railroads—and the entire month, AAR said Thursday, June 6.

U.S. freight carload traffic for the week rose 1.6% measured against the comparable week in 2012, while U.S. intermodal volume continued its robust trend, up 3.7% over the comparable week last year. Total Total U.S. rail traffic for the notched a 2.5% gain over 2012 levels.

Five of the 10 carload commodity groups AAR tracks on a weekly basis posted gains compared with the same week in 2012, led not surprisingly by petroleum and petroleum products, up 40.7%. Declining groups included grain, down 20.7%.

Canadian freight carload traffic for the week ending June 1 did even better in percentage terms, up 8.1% compared with the same week in 2012. Canadian intermodal also romped, up 21.1% compared with a year ago. Mexican freight carload traffic also did well, up 13.6% compared with the same week in 2012, while Mexican intermodal also rose, up 5.3%.

Combined North American freight carload volume for the first 22 weeks of 2013 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads still lagged the 2012 pace, down 0.4% measured against the comparable period last year. Combined North American intermodal volume for the 22 weeks, however, was up 4.2%.

Total U.S. rail traffic for the month of May "saw the first year-over-year monthly total carload increase in 16 months, and the 42nd straight monthly increase in intermodal traffic," AAR reported. U.S. intermodal volume for the month was up 3% compared with May 2012, while U.S. May freight carload traffic eked out a 0.7% gain.

Eleven of the 20 major commodity categories tracked by AAR saw year-over-year increases in May compared with May 2012. Petroleum and petroleum products led the pack, up 41.8%, with motor vehicles and parts up 6.2% and crushed stone, gravel, and sand up 5.2%. Grain led the declining commodity groups in May, down 20%, with primary metal products also falling, down 7.2%.

"The economy is still not firing on all cylinders, and rail traffic in May reflects that," said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John Gray. "Pockets of rail traffic growth, such as autos, nonmetallic minerals, and commodities related to crude oil extraction are being countered by continued weakness in steel-related commodities, paper, and grain, among others. Like everyone else, railroads are hopeful that the economy will soon finally shake off its malaise and start reaching its potential."