Railroad shipping: AAR reports September volumes are up from 2009, down from 2008

As was the case in August, September rail volumes were mixed when compared to the last two years, according to data released by the Association of American Railroads (AAR). The AAR reported that monthly rail carloads for September—at 1,487,511—were up 7.7. percent from September 2009 and down 7.5 percent from September 2008. The weekly September average of 297,502 carloads hit its highest level since October 2008, said the AAR. September carloads were 1.9 percent higher than September 2009.

By ·

As was the case in August, September rail volumes were mixed when compared to the last two years, according to data released by the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

The AAR reported that monthly rail carloads for September—at 1,487,511—were up 7.7. percent from September 2009 and down 7.5 percent from September 2008. The weekly September average of 297,502 carloads hit its highest level since October 2008, said the AAR. September carloads were 1.9 percent higher than September 2009.

While carload performance in September was steady, intermodal traffic was booming—at 1,165,288 trailers and containers—a 17.3 percent annual gain and up 0.2 percent from September 2008. The AAR said the weekly average of 233,058 trailers and containers paved the way for four of the top five intermodal weeks to date for 2010 although total intermodal volumes were 0.08 percent behind August.

AAR officials pointed out that September is typically the second or third best month of the year for intermodal as retailers are stocking up for the holidays. And domestic intermodal traffic in particular continues to see strong sequential growth due to conversions of over-the-road domestic traffic to rail and growth in international trade. The AAR also said it reflects 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.

An executive at a large intermodal marketing company told LM at the recently-held Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals Annual Conference that shippers are turning to intermodal more as a cost-effective and efficient alternative to trucking. But he cautioned that as volumes increase, railroads and IMC’s need to focus on maintaining high service levels for shippers.

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.

As LM has reported, while railroad activity is clearly picking up compared to a dismal 2009, it is still lagging 2008 and earlier years on an absolute volume basis. And based on various economic indicators it is clear it will be a while more until rail volumes return to the same levels as previous years.

“September was a steady month for rail traffic with new weekly records set in both carloads and intermodal,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray in a statement. “That said, intermodal traffic gains can be attributed to the upcoming holiday season and the number of railcars coming out of storage are not as significant as during the first few months of the year; all of which is evidence of a slow measured economic recovery.”

Stifel Nicolaus analyst John Larkin said on a conference call hosted by his firm last month that even with the railroads in recovery mode, current volumes are still roughly 15 percent below the peak, adding that the annual gains occurring in 2010 are against a 2009 which he described as the worst year for railroad traffic since deregulation.

Of the 18 major commodities tracked by the AAR, 14 were up on an annual basis. Metallic ores and metals were up 41.8 percent, and farm products excluding grain were up 29.1 percent. 

Railroad employee numbers fell by 121 to 152,925 employees in August (the most recent month for which data is available) from 153,046 in July. And the AAR said 17,638 rail cars were brought back into service in September, with 331,074 cars—or 21.6 percent—of the North American railcar fleet currently remaining in storage.


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

Subscribe to Logistics Management Magazine!

Subscribe today. It's FREE!
Get timely insider information that you can use to better manage your entire logistics operation.
Start your FREE subscription today!

Article Topics

AAR · Carload · Intermodal · All Topics
Hub Group Resources
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.
Click here to download
Latest Whitepaper
The View from the New “Single Window”
The single window, officially known as the "International Trade Data System," operates via the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency's Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) platform, and serves as a single point of contact for all trade filings.
Download Today!
From the March 2017 Issue
WMS vendors are stepping up to the plate and developing functionalities and solutions that meet the complex needs of today’s companies. Our top analysts take a peek into these developments and discuss the DC of the future and the software that will support it.
5 Supply Chain Trends Happening Now
2017 Warehouse/DC Equipment Survey: Investment up as service pressures rise
View More From this Issue
Subscribe to Our Email Newsletter
Sign up today to receive our FREE, weekly email newsletter!
Latest Webcast
2017 Trucking Regulations & Infrastructure Update
In this session our panel brings shippers up to date on the state of transportation regulations. Discussion will revolve around regulatory reform, aspects of the federal highway bill and what the transportation landscape looks like in the early days of the Trump administration.
Register Today!
EDITORS' PICKS
LM Exclusive: Major Modes Join E-commerce Mix
While last mile carriers receive much of the attention, the traditional modal heavyweights are in...
ASEAN Logistics: Building Collectively
While most of the world withdraws inward, Southeast Asia is practicing effective cooperation between...

2017 Rate Outlook: Will the pieces fall into place?
Trade and transport analysts see a turnaround in last year’s negative market outlook, but as...
Logistics Management’s Top Logistics News Stories 2016
From mergers and acquisitions to regulation changes, Logistics Management has compiled the most...