Thursday, August 08, 2013

AAR: Intermodal powers latest week and July

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Intermodal continued to be the growth driver for Class I railroads through the month of July, and including the latest week ending Aug. 3, 2013, the Association of American Railroads said Thursday, Aug. 8.

The yearlong familiar "mix" for the latest week saw U.S. carload freight traffic slip 0.4% when measured against the comparable week in 2012, while intermodal continued to shine, advancing 4.8% over 2012's level. Total U.S. rail traffic for the week ending Aug. 3 was was up 2.0% percent compared with the same week last year.

AAR said seven of the 10 carload commodity groups tracked on a weekly basis posted increases, led once again by petroleum and petroleum products, up 19.0%, and joined by nonmetallic minerals and products, up 11.5%. Grain once again was grouped among the declining commodities, down 10.9%.

Canadian freight carload volume eked out a gain during the week, up 0.3%, while Canadian intermodal volume fared even better, up 5.0%. Mexican freight carload for the seek gained 14.9%, but Mexican intermodal gave ground, down 4.5% measured against the comparable week in 2012.

Combined North American rail volume for the first 31 weeks of 2013 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads remained down 0.4% compared with the same point last year, while combined North American intermodal volume was 3.4% ahead of last year's comparable period.

Total U.S. traffic for the month of July was similarly mixed, AAR said, with U.S. freight carload traffic down 0.5% while U.S. intermodal scored a 2.5% gain. AAR noted intermodal established "a new July record for average weekly volume."

Thirteen of the 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR on a monthly basis saw year-over-year carload increases in July 2013 over the comparable 2012 month, led by petroleum and petroleum products, up 24.9%. Coal was among the categories registering declines, don 4.1% from July 2012 levels. Excluding coal and grain, total

U.S. carloads were up 3.5% in July compared with a year ago, AAR asserted.

"Historically, coal and grain together typically account for around 50% of tonnage and around 30% of revenue for major U.S. railroads, so their importance to railroads is hard to overstate," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. "That said, coal and grain traffic is down for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the state of the economy. The remaining rail traffic segments are mixed, reflecting an economy that's moving in the right direction but not firing on all cylinders."