U.S. freight traffic for the most recent week edged up 0.5% compared with the same week last year, the gain being the fourth in the past six weeks, while U.S. intermodal volume for the week also rose, up 2.9%. Total U.S. rail traffic for the week ending September 28 was up 1.6% compared with the same week last year.
Five of the 10 carload commodity groups AAR tracks on a weekly basis posted increases compared with the same week in 2012, led by petroleum and petroleum products, up 14.3%. Grain continued its yearlong slump, leading the declining commodity groups with a 19.5% fall.
Canadian freight carload traffic for the week ending Sept. 28 outperformed its U.S. counterpart on a percentage basis, up 4.4% compared with the same week last year. Canadian intermodal volume did even better, up 6.0%. Mexican freight carload volume did modestly better, up 0.3% for the week, while Mexican intermodal volume completed the across-the-board gains for the week, up 2.7%.
Combined North American rail volume for the first 39 weeks of 2013 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads remained off just a fraction, down 0.1% compared with the same period of time in 2012. Combined North American intermodal volume, by contrast, was up 3.6% compared with last year.
AAR also noted September saw gains in U.S. freight carload volume of 0.7%, while U.S. intermodal volume rose 4.4% for the month, measured against the comparable month in 2012. "The weekly average of 256,881 intermodal units in September was the second-highest monthly average of any month in history," AAR pointed out. .
Eleven of the 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw year-over-year carload increases in September over the same month last year, including crushed stone, sand, and gravel, up 10.0%, motor vehicles and parts, up 12.0%, and, no surprise, petroleum and petroleum products, up 10.4%. Grain slipped 11.3% in September compared with a year ago; coal was down 2.7% for the month. Excluding coal, total U.S. carloads were up 3.0% in September compared with a year ago, AAR said.
"Those who follow the rail industry know that carloads of grain and coal can rise or fall by substantial amounts for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the state of the economy," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. "Not so with most other rail traffic categories, however. The fact that rail carloads excluding coal and grain were up 4.9% in September — the biggest year-over-year monthly gain since last December — is a hopeful sign."