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Railroad shipping: AAR says Memorial Day week traffic shows slight gains

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
June 11, 2010

Even with the Memorial Day holiday included in its total volume, carload and intermodal volumes were both up for the week ending June 5, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

Weekly carload volumes—at 270,251—were up 4.0 percent year-over-year and down 16.4 percent compared to 2008. This fell short of the week ending May 29, which hit 286,665 and the week ending May 22, which hit 288,114. The week ending April 24, which hit 294,218 carloads, is the highest weekly carload level since December 2008, according to the AAR.

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 West was up 3.4 percent year-over-year and down 13.7 percent compared to 2008. And in the East carloads were up 4.9 percent year-over-year and down 20.2 percent compared to 2008.

Intermodal container and trailer volumes—at 191,758 trailers and containers—were up 1.6 percent annually and down 18.3 percent compared to 2008. This falls short of the week ending May 29, which reached 225,111 and is the highest weekly total for intermodal loadings since November 2008. The weeks ending May 22 and May 15 hit 215,118 and 218,206 containers and trailers, respectively.

Intermodal container volume was up 4.5 percent year-over-year and down 11.5 percent compared to 2008. Intermodal trailer volume was down 13 percent year-over-year and down 45.8 percent compared to 2008. 

As LM has reported, recent railroad volume growth could lead to a bright picture for the remainder of 2010, according to industry analysts.

These analysts have cited 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 well below previous peak levels.

“We expect the [year-over-year] comps to continue to improve at least until mid-summer for most of the major carload categories, but are growing more cautious about export
dependent groups, such as agriculture, as the Euro continues to weaken against the U.S. dollar,” wrote Avondale Partners analyst Donald Broughton in a research report.

On a year-to-date basis, total U.S. carload volumes at 6,193,584 carloads are up 7 percent year-over-year and down 13.7 percent compared to 2008. Trailers or containers at 4,525,317 are up 11 percent year-over-year and down 7.8 percent compared to 2008.

Of the 19 carload commodities tracked by the AAR, ten were up year-over-year. Metallic ores were up 20.8 percent, and metals and metal products were up 69.8 percent. Showing declines were grain farm products excluding grain at -17.1 percent and grain mill products at -12.1 percent, among others.


Weekly rail volume was estimated at 30.2 billion ton-miles, a 4.9 percent year-over-year decline. And total volume year-to-date at 680.2 billion ton-miles was up 8.0 percent year-over-year.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
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. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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