AAR reports mixed carload and intermodal volumes for April

April carloads—at 1,108,722—were down 4,640 carloads or 0.4 percent annually. Intermodal—at 962,019 trailers and containers—was up 15,053 units or 1.6 percent compared to April 2012.

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The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported this week that United States carload and intermodal traffic was mixed in April.

April carloads—at 1,108,722—were down 4,640 carloads or 0.4 percent annually. Intermodal—at 962,019 trailers and containers—was up 15,053 units or 1.6 percent compared to April 2012. The AAR said that the weekly intermodal average in April of 240,505 marks is the highest average in its history.

Of the 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR, nine saw annual gains in April. Petroleum and petroleum products were up 46.4 percent, and crushed stone, gravel, and sand was up 11.5 percent. On the other end, grain was down 17.1 percent, metallic ores were down 26.5 percent, and coal was down 0.7 percent.

While volumes are not at the peak levels of 2006, they are slowly returning, with intermodal nearly back to 2006 levels. And these volumes are showing growth at a time when the overall economic outlook has the signs of stalling out again, with various indicators indicating that the economic growth seen earlier in the year may not be lasting.

“Coal and grain carloads remain depressed, but by and large rail traffic in April was consistent with an economy that’s continuing to grow, albeit slowly,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray in a statement.  “There’s nothing in the traffic data to indicate that a sharp economic slowdown is imminent.  On the other hand, there’s nothing to indicate that a dramatic uptick in economic growth is imminent either.” 

At last week’s National Shippers Strategic Council Annual Conference in Orlando, Fla. BNSF Railway Chairman and CEO Matt Rose said that he expects his company to see 5 percent annual gains on top of national economic growth of about 2 percent as the economy slowly continues to improve and get back to peak volumes.

And even with a fluctuating economy, the railroads maintain they are in good position for future growth, with CSX executives noting on their first quarter earnings call that GDP and Industrial Production rates reflected expansion in the quarter, and forward projection show continued slow growth in the near-term, with improved growth rates later in the year. The company also said that transportation demand in the markets it serves was mixed in the first quarter, which is consistent with the broader economic environment.

For the week ending April 27, the AAR reported that U.S. carloads at 275,638 were down 2.6 percent annually and below the previous two weeks, which came in at 276,662 and 275,675, respectively. Intermodal was up 2.1 percent at 247,659 containers and trailers.

On a year-to-date basis for the first 17 weeks of 2013, the AAR reported carloads were down 2.4 percent at 4,679,596, and intermodal was down 0.4 percent at 523,207.


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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