More broadly, AAR, in a bit of a departure from its standardized weekly report, also noted U.S. Class I railroads originated 110,164 carloads of crude oil in the first quarter of 2014, "1.4% percent more than in the fourth quarter of 2013 and, by 1,559 carloads, the most ever in any quarter. In the first quarter of 2014, crude oil accounted for 1.6% of total originated carloads for U.S. rail traffic."
Overall U.S. freight carload traffic for the week ending May 31 rose 7.6% when measured against the comparable week in 2013e. U.S. intermodal volume for the week continued its robust growth, rising 9.1%. Total U.S. traffic for the week was up 8.3% compared with the same week a year ago.
Notably, all 10 of the 10 carload commodity groups AAR tracks on a weekly basis advanced over year-ago levels, including grain, up 27.4%, forest products, up 13.6%, and motor vehicles and parts, up 12.2%.
Canadian freight carload traffic for the week ending May 31 rose 17.8% when measured against the comparable week in 2013, while Canadian intermodal rose 11%. Mexican freight carload traffic rose more modestly, in the single-digit range, up 2.2%, but Mexican intermodal was more energetic, up 10.4% for the week.
Combined North American freight carload traffic for the first 22 weeks of 2014 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads was up 2% compared with the same period in 2013. Combined North American intermodal volume was up 5.6%.
For the month of May, U.S. freight carload traffic rose 6.1%, AAR said, while U.S. intermodal volume advanced 8%, registering "the 54th-consecutive year-over-year monthly increase for intermodal volume." AAR added, "The weekly average of 261,470 intermodal units on U.S. railroads in May 2014 was the third-highest average for any month in history."
AAR noted 17 of the 20 commodity categories it tracks each month saw year-over-year carload increases in May, adding, "Railroads have not had a month with 17 of 20 commodity categories increased since the spring of 2010, when the country was just beginning to rebound from the most severe stages of the recession."
"If you're looking for a sign that the economy is shaking off its first quarter lethargy, rail traffic in May could be that sign," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. "Crushed stone, steel, motor vehicles, lumber, chemicals—the list of commodities showing carload gains in May goes on and on. And intermodal continues to surge. All in all, there's very little to dislike about May's rail traffic figures. We hope it really is a sign that the economy is beginning a period of solid growth."