U.S. freight carload traffic, which rose the previous week, resumed its 2012 standard in the final full week of 2012, down 13.8% from the comparable week in 2011. U.S. intermodal traffic, a bright light through most of 2012, also declined when measured against a year ago, down 14%.
AAR noted that for the 52 weeks of 2012, U.S. freight carload traffic fell 3.1% from 2011. By contrast, U.S. intermodal volume rose 3.2% in 2012 compared with 2011.
For the week, only three of the 20 carload commodity groups AAR tracks posted increases compared with the same week in 2011: petroleum products, up 48.3%, coke, up 14.1%, and motor vehicles and equipment, up 6.7%. Declining commodities of note included farm products, excluding grain, down 30%, grain, down 24.9%, and coal, down 20.3%.
Canadian freight carload volume in the week ending Dec. 29 also slid, down 9.9% compared with the same week in 2011. Canadian intermodal volume did better, up a modest 0.3%. For all of 2012 (minus the last two days), freight carload volume rose 2% over 2011 levels, while Canadian intermodal volume advanced 6.6%.
Mexican freight carload volume for the week fell 1.9% measured against the comparable week in 2011, while Mexican intermodal volume rose 11.6%. For 2012 (minus two days), Mexican freight carload volume rose 1.3%, and Mexican intermodal rose 19%, when compared to 2011.
Combined North American rail volume for 2012 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads was down 2% when compared to 2011. Combined North American intermodal volume was up 4.2%.
"Coal and grain typically account for around half of U.S. rail carloads, so when they're down, chances are good that overall rail carloads are down too, as we saw in 2012," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. "That said, a number of key rail carload categories showed solid improvement in 2012, including categories like autos and lumber that are most highly correlated with economic growth.
"Meanwhile, intermodal just missed setting a new volume record in 2012. In 2013, freight railroads look forward to continuing to provide the world's safest, most cost effective freight rail transportation service," Gray said.