U.S. freight carload traffic fell 1.5% during the week ending Feb. 1, measured against the comparable week in 2013. U.S. intermodal volume, uncharacteristically, also fell during the week, down 0.8%. Total U.S. rail traffic for the declined 1.2%.
Just two of the 10 carload commodity groups AAR tracks on a weekly basis posted increases compared with the same week in 2013: grain, up 22.5%, and petroleum and petroleum products, up 0.8%. Declining commodities included nonmetallic minerals and products, down 8.8%.
Canadian freight carload traffic for the week ending Feb. 1 followed suit, down 3.8% measured against the comparable week in 2013, and Canadian intermodal also retreated, down 6.3%. Mexican freight carload traffic also failed to gain ground, down 1.3%, but Mexican intermodal, up 1.1%, spoiled the negative North American sweep.
Combined North American freight carload traffic for the first five weeks of 2014 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican was down 0.7% percent compared with the same point last year. Combined North American intermodal volume, by contrast, was up 0.5%.
AAR reported a more upbeat picture in tabulating U.S. freight traffic's January results. U.S. intermodal volume rose 1.3% for the month when measured against January 2013; U.S. freight carload traffic edged up 0.4%.
Seven of the 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw year-over-year carload increases in January over January 2013. Grain rose 13.2%, while petroleum and petroleum products rose 10.4%. Commodity categories with carload declines last month included metallic ores, down 23.5%, and motor vehicles and parts, down 6.1%. Coal carloads were down a modest 0.5%.
"Railroads are very good at operating their 140,000 mile long, outdoor 'factory floor' in all kinds of difficult weather. That said, in many parts of the country, January took the term difficult weather to new lows, as in low temperatures, for recent years," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. "We can't quantify it precisely, but the extreme cold probably held down rail traffic to some extent – for example, by making it more difficult for rail customers to produce their products and to load what they did produce into rail cars."