Thursday, December 06, 2012

U.S. freight traffic slumps as December begins

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For the week ending Dec. 1, U.S. freight carload traffic continued falling short of its 2011 marks, and U.S. intermodal also fell short, the Association of American Railroads reported Thursday.

U.S. freight carload traffic was down 2% for the week ending Dec. 1 measured agains the comparable week of a year ago. U.S. intermodal slipped 1.1%, counter to its usual weekly gains recorded during 2012.

AAR noted, however, that 14 of the 20 carload commodity groups it tracks posted increases compared with the same week in 2011. Gainers included petroleum products, up 65.3%, metallic ores, up 27.2%, and iron and steel scrap, up 20.2%> Declining commodities included coal, down 12.7%, waste and nonferrous scrap, down 5.6%, and primary forest products, down 5%.

Canadian freight carload volume slipped 0.7% during the week ended Dec. 1 compared with the same week last year, and Canadian intermodal volume also fell, down 2%. Mexican freight carload volume rose 6.3% for the week, while Mexican intermodal shone, up 15.1%.

Combined North American rail volume for the first 48 weeks of 2012 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads was down 1.9% measured against the comparable period in 2011; combined North American intermodal was up 4.3%.

AAR also released full-month figure for November, showing U.S. intermodal volume rose 1.2% when measured against November 2011, the 36th straight month of gains. U.S. freight carload volume for the month slumped 4%.

"Coal and grain together account for almost half of non-intermodal U.S. rail traffic, so they are obviously very important to railroads. But coal and grain carloads often rise or fall for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the economy. Other commodity categories like autos, lumber, and crushed stone, sand, and gravel that are more highly correlated with economic growth have been growing, which we hope is a good sign for the economy moving forward," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray.

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