Thursday, September 06, 2012

U.S. ends August with mixed traffic results

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U.S. freight carload traffic for the week ending Sept. 1 declined 3.4% measured against the comparable week of 2011, the Association of American Railroads said Thursday. But U.S. intermodal continued its winning streak, up a robust 6.5% during the week compared with one year ago.

AAR said 10 of the 20 carload commodity groups it measures posted increases compared with the same week in 2011, led by petroleum products, up 44.1%, farm products excluding grain, up 22%, and lumber and wood products, up 20.7%. Declining commodities were led by metallic ores, down 17.2%, and waste and nonferrous scrap, down 16.6%. Coal fell 9.4%.

Canadian freight carload volume eked out a modest 0.1% rise for the week ending Sept. 1 compared with the same week one year ago, while Canadian intermodal rose a more substantial 3.9%. Mexican freight carload volume also rose, up 2.3% for the week, while Mexican intermodal advanced 12.6%.

Combined North American freight carload volume for the first 35 weeks of 2012 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads was down 1.3% from the comparable period in 2011, while combined North American intermodal was up 4.7%.

August's last week in essence affirmed the overall trend for the month and, indeed, for much of 2012. AAR said U.S. freight carload volume for the month was down 1.4% compared with August 2011, while U.S. intermodal volume rose 4.3%. AAR noted the August 2012 average weekly intermodal volume was "the second highest average for any August on record."

Commodity groups showing strength in August 2012 included petroleum and petroleum products, up 49%, motor vehicles and parts, up 13%, and crushed stone, sand, and gravel, up 7.3%. Coal was among the declining commodities, down 7.3% during August, joined by metallic ores, down 18.7%, and waste and nonferrous scrap, down 15%.

AAR noted, "Carloads excluding coal were up 3.3% or 27,443 carloads in August 2012 compared with August 2011. Carloads excluding coal and grain were up 3.5% or 25,889 carloads in August 2012 compared with August 2011. "

"U.S rail traffic in August was pretty much same song, different verse," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. "Weakness in coal carloadings was largely but not entirely offset by increases in carloads of petroleum and petroleum products, autos, lumber, and several other commodities, with intermodal showing continued strength."