AAR reports April volumes are mixed compared to 2010

As has been the case in recent weeks, rail carload and intermodal volumes were somewhat mixed in April, according to data from the Association of American Railroads (AAR). April rail carloads—at 1,117277—were down 0.2 percent compared to April 2010 and up 2.5 percent compared to March 2011 on a seasonally-adjusted basis

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As has been the case in recent weeks, rail carload and intermodal volumes were somewhat mixed in April, according to data from the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

April rail carloads—at 1,117277—were down 0.2 percent compared to April 2010 and up 2.5 percent compared to March 2011 on a seasonally-adjusted basis, said the AAR.

The weekly carload average in April was at 294,319, which was down from 294,775 in April 2010. Carloads had been up for 13 straight months prior to April, and the AAR said the decline was small and due to a slight drop-off in coal loadings. Another factor cited by the AAR was that April 2010 was a tough comparison month: it had the highest carload volume of any month in the 20 months from December 2008 to August 2010.

April intermodal volumes were up 9 percent annually at 914,518 trailers and containers. This was up 24.6 percent over April 2009. The weekly intermodal average for April was 228,630 units and marked the second best April intermodal performance behind April 2006.

“April’s carload decline is the first year-over-year monthly decline since February 2010,” said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray. “April 2010 was a relatively strong month and therefore a difficult comparison, and coal traffic was down for the first time since July 2010.  April’s carload decline was offset by continued intermodal growth.  Rail traffic deserves a close watch over the next several months because it’s a useful gauge of the strength of the economy.”

Intermodal is continuing its strong run for a variety of factors, according to industry experts, including supply capacity, which remains tight in the trucking market and lowering supply chain expenses at a time when fuel costs remain high, among others.

Of the 20 major commodities tracked by the AAR, 9 were up year-over-year. Grain was up 13.6 percent, and metallic ores were up 19.4 percent.  Coal was down 2.9 percent, and primary forest products were down 26.4 percent.

Railroad employee numbers increased by 1,340 to 155,842 employees in March from February (the most recent month for which data is available). This is the largest monthly increase since September 2010, according to AAR data.

And as of May 1, the AAR said that 276,228 freight cars—or 18.2 percent of the total fleet—were in storage, a decrease of 7,421 cars from April 1.

A research note from Ed Wolfe at Wolfe Trahan research noted that shippers are seeing signs of deteriorating rail service, particularly with the western U.S. rails as well as CP. Wolfe added that shippers contend the rails are suffering from tight freight car capacity and crew shortages, although locomotive capacity seems abundant.

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About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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Not Your Grandfather's Intermodal
Transportation of freight in containers was first recorded around 1780 to move coal along England’s Bridgewater Canal. However, "modern" intermodal rail service by a major U.S. railroad only dates back to 1936. Malcom McLean’s Sea-Land Service significantly advanced intermodalism, showing how freight could be loaded into a “container” and moved by two or more modes economically and conveniently. As with all new technologies, there were problems that slowed the growth, which influenced many potential customers to shy away from moving intermodal.
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