Thursday, February 07, 2013

February freeze: U.S. freight traffic remains mixed

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U.S. freight traffic volumes wrapped up 2013's first month, and entered its second, on par with a path carved out for more than a year: mixed. U.S. intermodal traffic volume rose a healthy 7.2% during the week ending Feb. 2, measured against the comparable week in 2012, the Association of American Railroads said Thursday. But U.S. carload freight volume fell 3.4% short of last year's levels.
AAR said eight of the 20 carload commodity groups it tracks posted increases compared with the same week in 2012, including petroleum products, up 52.3%, lumber and wood products, up 26.5%, and farm products excluding grain, up 18.7%. Declining commodity groups included metallic ores, down 22.4%, grain, down 15.7%, and nonmetallic minerals, down 12.1%.

Weekly carload volume on Eastern railroads was down 4.7% compared with the same week last year. In the West, weekly carload volume was down 2.6% compared with the same week in 2012.

Canadian freight carlolad volume fell 2.6% compared with the same week last year. Canadian intermodal volume did even worse, down 2.9% for the week ending Feb. 2 when measured against the comparable week in 2012. Mexican freight carload volume, by contrast, rose 16.2% for the week ending Feb. 2, while Mexican intermodal also advanced, up 1.1%.

Combined North American freight carload volume for the first five weeks of 2013 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads was down 4.3% when measured agains the comparable period in 2012, while combined North American intermodal volume was up 5.1%.

"The New Year brought a continuation of an old pattern: weakness in coal, strength in intermodal and petroleum products, and mixed results for everything else," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. "Railroads recently announced that they expect to reinvest significantly in 2013 — an estimated $24.5 billion for the year — back into their systems. They're making these investments because they are confident that demand for freight transportation, over the long term, will continue to grow."