AAR says weekly volumes are up compared to 2009

Following a week in which carload and intermodal volumes hit high marks for the year, volumes for the week ending August 7 were somewhat tempered, according to data from the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

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Following a week in which carload and intermodal volumes hit high marks for the year, volumes for the week ending August 7 were somewhat tempered, according to data from the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

Weekly carload volumes—284,507—were up 3.5 percent year-over-year and down 13 percent compared to 2008. It falls short of the week ending July 31, which hit 300,292 carloads, which is the best weekly carload output for all of 2010, and is slightly less than the week ending 24 which came in at 286,854.

In October 2009, the AAR began reporting weekly rail traffic with year-over-year comparisons for the previous two years, due to the fact that the economic downturn was in full effect at this time a year ago, and global trade was bottoming and economic activity was below current levels.

Carload volume in the East was up 3.2 percent year-over-year and down 16.1 percent compared to 2008. And out West carloads were up 3.8 percent year-over-year and down 10.8 percent compared to 2008.

Intermodal traffic—at 231,208 trailers and containers—was up 18.6 percent year-over-year and up down 1.2 percent compared to 2008. This was below the week ending July 31 at 232,985 trailers and containers, which marked the highest intermodal levels in 2010, beating the week ending July 3, which hit 231,286. The week ending July 3 was the highest intermodal output since week 42 of 2008. Intermodal container volume was up 19.8 percent compared to 2009 and up 6.8 percent compared to 2008, and trailer volume was up 12 percent and down 30.7 percent compared to 2008.

Domestic intermodal performance continues to be strong, due, in part, to a tightening of truckload capacity, which has some shippers converting to intermodal. This is indicative, said the AAR, of a years-long trend of domestic freight converting from truck trailers to containers on rail; truck trailers can be double-stacked, which makes them more cost-efficient and effective.

Stifel Nicolaus analyst John Larkin wrote in a research note that the growth in intermodal loads should grow at a faster rate than loads hauled over the highway
as fuel prices likely increase, highways become increasingly congested, the North American rails make further investments to intermodal corridors and terminals,  and federal and local governments provide a portion of the funding for certain intermodal infrastructure projects, among other factors.

And rail industry stakeholders remain optimistic about railroad growth throughout the remainder of 2010. Among the things they have pointed to include increased industrial production growth in the form of manufacturing and new orders indices, as well as gradual consumer spending, among other factors, as drivers for these gains. But even though volumes are slowly recovering, they are still below previous peak levels.

While volumes remain below these previous peak levels, they are starting to face tougher year-over-year comparisons through the remainder of 2010, given the fact that 2009 was a down year for the rails in terms of volume growth.

On a year-to-date basis, total U.S. carload volumes at 8,745,778 carloads are up 7.2 percent year-over-year and down 13.1 percent compared to 2008. Trailers or containers at 6,550,053 are up 13.7 percent year-over-year and down 5.8 percent compared to 2008.

Of the 19 carload commodities tracked by the AAR, 16 were up year-over-year. Metallic ores were up 61.2 percent and metals & products were up 37.8 percent. Coal loadings were down 3.4 percent, and primary forest products were down 5.9 percent. A year ago, none of the 19 carload commodities were up year-over-year.

Weekly rail volume was estimated at 31.3 billion ton-miles, a 5.4 percent year-over-year increase. And total volume year-to-date at 962.4 billion ton-miles was up 8.3 percent year-over-year.


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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