Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Barring coal, February carloads up 7.2%

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The Association of American Railroads said Wednesday that carload traffic for 14 of the 19 major commodity groups was higher last month than in February 2009. Excluding coal carloads, which were down 9.9%, U.S. carloads in February 2010 were up 7.2% over February 2009.

Intermodal traffic was up 10.1% in February compared with the same month last year, though down 10.6% from the same month in 2008.

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“Rail traffic trends over the past few months, especially when you take out coal, are consistent with a slowly recovering economy,” said John Gray, AAR’s senior vice president of Policy and Economics. “Other economic indicators taken as a whole seem to be saying the same thing. Is a sustained recovery a sure thing? No, not yet, but prospects are certainly much brighter now than they were four or five months ago.”

Gray said the last week of February was the highest-volume week for U.S. rail carloads since December 2008, at least partly due to “catchup” traffic following record snowstorms earlier in the month.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, rail carloads in February fell 0.1% compared with January 2010, while seasonally adjusted U.S. intermodal traffic was down 3.6% in February compared to the prior month.

“Adjusting for seasonal issues that cause peaks or valleys in traffic—such as end-of-year holidays and the fall grain harvest—allows us to see more clearly the strength or weakness of the underlying demand for rail traffic,” Gray noted. “Over the past six months, the upward trend in seasonally adjusted rail traffic indicates an increase in underlying demand.”