Thursday, February 25, 2010

U.S. rail freight off slightly as coal loadings decline

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Freight traffic on U.S. railroads was down slightly during the week ended Feb. 20, in comparison with the corresponding week last year, according to the Association of American Railroads. AAR cited “a sharp drop in coal loadings” as a primaryfactor.

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U.S. railroads originated 273,999 carloads, down 1.6% compared with the same week in 2009, and down 15.3% from 2008.  But intermodal traffic gained sharply in comparison with last year, up 19%, though it still fell 11.1% below the comparable week in 2008. AAR cautioned, though, that the corresponding 2009 week was affected by the Chinese New Year, which has a significant impact on container volume.

West was best for U.S. Class I railroads, where carloads gained 2.2% over 2009, trailing 2008 levels by 10.8%. In the East, carloads fell 7.1% from a year ago, and were 21.5% behind the 2008 period.

Twelve of the 19 carload freight commodity groups were up in comparison with the same week last year. Double-digit increases werereported in loadings of metals (44.6%), motor vehicles and equipment (30.5%), grain (21.9%), metallic ores (17.6%), grain mill products (14.4%), and chemicals (13.7%). Total volume on U.S. railroads for the week ending Feb. 20 was estimated at 29.8 billion ton-miles.

Canadian carloadings were up 9.6% from last year, while intermodal gained 12.5% over 2009 levels. Mexico’s two major railroads reported carload traffic rose 25.3% from the same week last year, while intermodal gained 12.7%.

Combined North American rail volume for the first seven weeks of 2010 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads totaled 2,442,733 carloads, up 1.8% from last year, and 1,745,653 intermodal trailers and containers, up 5.1% from 2009.