Friday, April 03, 2009

Coal volume slump leads freight traffic decline

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U.S. freight carload traffic for the week ended March 28 declined 24.4% from the comparable week in 2008, the Association of American Railroads reported, with coal traffic slumping significantly. U.S. intermodal traffic also fell, down 15.4%. Volume of an estimated 26.6 billion ton miles was down 23.8% from the year-ago period.

Canadian freight carload traffic for the week was down 24.7%, while intermodal declined 16.3%.

AAR said a decline in coal shipments impacted the month of March and 2009’s first-quarter numbers significantly, as did weather-related woes. "A blizzard in the Wyoming coal fields, flooding in the Midwest, and other weather-related problems added a 'kick them when they're down' element to the month, dropping already depressed rail traffic levels even further in March," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray.

U.S. coal traffic fell 20.9% in the week ended March 28 compared with last year, and was down 4.2% for the quarter compared with 2008's first three months. 

Overall, U.S. freight carload traffic in March fell 17.3% compared with the 2008 counterpart month; intermodal traffic fell 14.9%. For the quarter, U.S. freight carload traffic declined 16.3% compared with the first quarter of 2008; intermodal traffic fell 15.5%.

Canadian rail carload traffic fared similarly, down 21.7% in March 2009 from March 2008 levels; Canadian intermodal traffic in March fell 13.3%. For the first quarter of 2009, Canadian rail carloadings plunged 19.5% compared with the 2008 quarter; Canadian intermodal traffic for the quarter was down 12.1%.

Though U.S. rail carloadings of coal fell during the first quarter, impacting overall volume, other commodities suffered even more in percentage terms, including motor vehicles and equipment (down 51.8%), metals and metal products (down 52.1%), and grain (down 22.4%).