Thursday, May 08, 2014

AAR: Traffic gains for April, first days of May

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April's solid advances in U.S. freight rail traffic rolled on into the first days of May, the Association of American Railroads reported Thursday, May 8, 2014.

For the week ending May 3, 2014, U.S. freight carload traffic rose 4.8%, measured against the comparable week in 2013, AAP said. U.S. intermodal volume did even better by percentage, up 8.8%. Total U.S. freight rail traffic for the week was up a healthy 6.6% compared with the same week last year.

Eight of the 10 carload commodity groups AAR tracks on a weekly basis posted gains over 2013 levels, led by grain, up 24.8%. Metallic ores and metals, by contrast, fell 4.4%.

Canadian freight carload volume for the week also did well, up 6.2% measured against the comparable week a year ago. Canadian intermodal was robust, up 12.4%. Mexican freight carload traffic for the week moved up 7.1%, and Mexican intermodal, completing a winning sweep among the three nations, scored the highest percentage gain, up 30%.

Combined North American freight carload traffic for the first 18 weeks of 2014 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian. and Mexican railroads was up 0.8% percent measured against the comparable period in 2013. Combined North American intermodal was up 5%.

The positive numbers for the latest week were reflected in full-month April results for U.S. freight rail traffic, also released by AAR Thursday. U.S. intermodal volume in April rose 9% compared with April 2013, notching "the 53rd-consecutive year-over-year monthly increase for intermodal volume," AAR noted, adding, "The weekly average of 263,235 intermodal units on U.S. railroads in April 2014 was easily the highest for any April in history and was the second highest for any month in history."

U.S. freight carload traffic in April also did well, up 6.4% over a year ago. AAR said 14 of the 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR on a monthly basis gained ground, including coal, up 6.4%, and grain, up 27.6%.

"April was a good month for rail traffic, as carload and intermodal volume rebounded from disappointing winter months," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. "As is the case for a number of economic indicators that have shown recent improvement, the key question is how much of the rail traffic increase in April represents a catch-up from the winter and how much is a sign of stronger underlying growth. It's probably some of both."