May 2012 volumes are mixed, reports Association of American Railroads

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported that carload and intermodal volumes were mixed in May, continuing an uneven trend of growth on the tracks.

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The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported that carload and intermodal volumes were mixed in May, continuing an uneven trend of growth on the tracks.

May carloads—at 1,132,352—were down 40,405 carloads or 2.8 percent annually, with a weekly carload average of 278,470. The 2.8 percent annual decline represents the smallest one in three months. Intermodal—at 1,178,312 trailers and containers—was up 39,696 units or 3.5 percent compared to May 2011. The weekly intermodal average for the month—at 235,662—is the highest ever recorded for May, said the AAR.

Of the 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR, 13 saw gains in April. Motor vehicles were up 27.7 percent (17,066 cars), and petroleum and petroleum products were up 49.2 percent (16,460 cars). Coal dipped 12.1 percent (74,469 cars), and agricultural and good products dropped 5.9 percent (11,585 cars).  Grain loadings decline by 11.8 percent (13,322 cars).

Even with mixed volumes remaining prevalent, rail analysts have told LM that a steady and slow growth pattern remains intact in 2012, which has aided the rails for future planning in the form of record-high 2012 capital expenditure plans by Class I railroads, which are at about $13 billion.

What’s more, anecdotal reports indicate that shippers are generally satisfied with current service levels, although there is some concern about future capacity, with current capacity levels solid.

The AAR reported that Class I employment increased by 1,353 employees to 161,876 in April 2012 (the month for which most recent data is available), which is the highest monthly employment level since November 2008. The AAR added that total Class I employment in April was up by 5,099 employees, a 3.3 percent gain over April 2011.

And as of June 1, the AAR said that 312,938 freight cars were in storage, which is up 4,981 since May 1 and represents about 20.4 percent of the North American fleet. The AAR also said that total cars in storage have increased for the past eight months. 

For the week ending June 2, the AAR reported that U.S. carloads—at 265,207—were down 3.1 percent annually. And intermodal—at 213,911—was up 4.1 percent annually.  And for the first 22 weeks of 2012, the AAR said that U.S. railroad carloads were down 3.1 percent at 6,184,547, while intermodal was up 2.9 percent at 5,053,708 trailers and containers.


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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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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