Thursday, November 08, 2012

Hurricane’s impact dampens U.S. freight traffic

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Data released Nov. 8 by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) showed Hurricane Sandy disrupted U.S. intermodal volume's winning streak during the week ending Nov. 3, 2012. The hurricane also solidified U.S. freight carload traffic's continuing slide during the latest week.

U.S. freight carload volume fell 6.8% compared with the same week in 2011, while U.S. intermodal volume also fell, down 6.2%.

AAR said 10 of the 20 carload commodity groups it measures posted increases for the week compared with a year ago, including petroleum products, up 61.5%, farm products excluding grain, up 46.4%, and lumber and wood products, up 24%. Declining compmodities included iron and steel scrap, down 25.8 percent%, metallic ores, down 22.9%, and nonmetallic minerals, down 22.5%.

Hurricane Sandy clearly had a regional impact; weekly carload volume on Eastern railroads was down 12.7%, while in the West, weekly carload volume was down a more modest 3%.

Canadian freight carload volume also fell, down 3.1% for the week compared with the same week last year, and Canadian intermodal also fell, down 2.3%. Mexican freight carload volume rose 0.7%, while Mexican intermodal volume advanced 18%.

Combined North American rail volume for the first 44 weeks of 2012 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads was down 1.8% compared with the same point last year, while combined North American intermodal was up 4.5%.

AAR also reported that for the month of October, overall U.S. rail traffic continued to be mixed. "The fundamentals of U.S. rail traffic remained roughly the same in October as in recent months: weakness in coal, remarkable growth in petroleum and petroleum products, a slight slowing of growth in intermodal and autos, and mixed results for everything else," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray.

U.S. intermodal traffic in October "saw an increase for the 35th straight month," AAR noted, up 1.5% compared with October 2011. By contrast, U.S. freight carload volume fell 6.1% during the month compared with a year ago. Declining coal volume was a major factor, AAR pointed out, saying, "Carloads excluding coal were up 1.9% for the month, or 15,609 carloads, compared with the same month last year. "