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Railroad shipping: Intermodal leads the way again for weekly traffic, says AAR


October 01, 2010

Another week, another 2010 record for intermodal volumes. That seems to be the case these days, according to data released this week by the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

Following the week of September 18, which saw intermodal volumes at 240,013 trailers and containers and container volume at 205,332, the week ending September 25 trumped that tally. Intermodal data came in at 241,167 trailers and containers for a 17.3 percent annual gain and a 2.1 percent decline from 2008, and container volume hit 206,535 for a 19.2 percent improvement—both marking new 2010 records. Intermodal trailer volume for the week ending September 25 hit 34,632 for a 7 percent annual uptick and a 32.8 percent dip compared to 2008.

An executive at a large intermodal marketing company told LM at this week’s 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.

Carload volumes came in at 300,908 for a 10.7 percent increase from 2009 and an 8.2 percent decline from 2008.

On a sequential basis, this was down compared to the week ending September 18 at 304,679. Carload volume in the East was up 10.4 percent year-over-year and down 10.8 percent compared to 2008. And out West carloads were up 10.9 percent year-over-year and down 6.3 percent compared to 2008.

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.

While rail volumes are relatively healthy, current volumes are still below previous peak levels and 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.

Year-to-date, total U.S. carload volumes at 10,828,835 carloads are up 7.2 percent year-over-year and down 12.3 percent compared to 2008. Trailers or containers at 8,182,454 are up 14.7 percent year-over-year and down 4.7 percent compared to 2008.

Of the 19 carload commodities tracked by the AAR, 17 were up year-over-year and 14 were down compared to 2008. Farm products excluding grain up were 63.9 percent, and coke loadings were up 33.1 percent.

Weekly rail volume was estimated at 33.0 billion ton-miles, a 12.6 percent year-over-year increase. And total volume year-to-date at 1,191.1 billion ton-miles was up 8.3 percent year-over-year.

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U.S. Carloads were down 7.8 percent annually at 259,544, and intermodal volume was off 15.7 percent for the week ending February 21 at 213,617 containers and trailers.

The Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Logistics (BTS) reported this week that U.S. trade with its North America Free Trade Agreement partners Canada and Mexico in December 2014 was up 5.4 percent annually at $95.8 billion. This marks the 11th straight month of annual increases, according to BTS officials.

While the volume decline was steep, there was numerous reasons behind it, including terminal congestion, protracted contract negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and other supply chain-related issues, according to POLA officials.

Truckload rates for the month of January, which measures truckload linehaul rates paid during the month, saw a 7.9 percent annual hike, and intermodal rates dropped 0.3 percent compared to January 2014, which the report pointed out marks the first annual intermodal pricing decline since December 2013.

Largely leveraging the net positive impact of lower fuel prices, the Shippers Conditions Index (SCI) from freight transportation consultancy FTR made major strides in December, the most recent month for which data is available.

Article Topics

News · Intermodal · AAR · Carload · All topics

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