Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Weather, port problems prompt U.S. freight slump

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U.S. freight rail traffic for the week ending Feb. 28, 2015 fell, dragging February's totals down with it, as U.S. freight carload traffic slipped for a second straight week, while U.S. intermodal extended a month-long slide, the Association of American Railroads reported Wednesday, March 4. AAR cited weather woes and port-related problems for much of the slide.

U.S. freight carload traffic for the week fell 7% measured against the comparable week in 2014, and ending a spurt of strength from the sector in recent weeks. U.S. intermodal volume fell again, down 6.3%. Total U.S. weekly rail traffic for the week declined 6.7% compared with the same week a year ago.

Just three of the 10 carload commodity groups tracked by the AAR on a weekly basis posted increases compared with the same week in 2014, led by petroleum and petroleum products, up 6.5%, grain, 7p 3.8%, and motor vehicles and parts, up 2%. Declining commodities included metallic ores and metals, down 13.2%, coal, down 12.4%, and nonmetallic minerals, down 10.9%.

Canadian freight carload volume for the week ending Feb. 28, by contrast, gained 8.9%, while Canadian intermodal volume also fared well, up 4% when measured against the comparable week in 2014. Mexican freight carload traffic fell 3.1%, but Mexican intermodal volume for the week rose 2.3%.

Combined North American freight carload traffic for the week ending Feb. 28, 2015 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads was down 3.9% compared with the same week last year. Combined North American intermodal volume fell 4.3%.

Total U.S. freight carload traffic for February sustained a 1.1% decline when measured against traffic in February 2014, while total U.S. intermodal volume for the month declined 6.5%. Total U.S. freight rail traffic for the mo th was off 3.6% from a year ago.

"The problems at West Coast ports clearly had an impact on rail traffic in February. Bad weather in the East and Midwest didn't help," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. "It's not possible to quantify the impact of these factors precisely. However, economic fundamentals remain mostly positive, so railroads are expecting significant traffic improvements in March."

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