Railroad shipping: Volumes ahead of 2009 pace for week ending June 12, says AAR

2008 levels still ahead, but data shows the gap is closing

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While volumes still lag 2008 levels, weekly carload and intermodal volumes continue to surpass 2009 levels, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

Weekly carload volumes—at 288,973—were up 10.5 percent year-over-year and down 10.3 percent compared to 2008 for the week ending June 12. This easily topped the week ending June 5, which hit 270,251 carloads, but had the Memorial Day holiday factored into its totals. The most recent week also edged out the week ending May 28, 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 East was up 12.6 percent year-over-year and down 14.9 percent compared to 2008. And out West carloads were up 9.1 percent year-over-year and down 6.9 percent compared to 2008.

Intermodal container and trailer volumes—at 223,075 trailers and containers—were up 17.7 percent annually and down 2.3 percent from 2008. This beat the week ending June 5, with Memorial Day, at 191,758, but fell 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 20.1 percent year-over-year and up 6.2 percent compared to 2008. Intermodal trailer volume was up 5.9 percent year-over-year and down 33.3 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.

And while current volumes remain below 2008 levels, the gap is clearly narrowing especially in recent weeks.

“Absolute volumes in recent weeks continue to improve sequentially as momentum improves ahead of the peak shipping season,” wrote Robert W. Baird analyst Jon Langenfeld in a research note.

“We expect both domestic and international growth to continue given ongoing domestic truckload conversion and economic growth. Tight truck and intermodal capacity should support intermodal rail rate increases.”

On a year-to-date basis, total U.S. carload volumes at 6,482,557 carloads are up 7.2 percent year-over-year and down 13.5 percent compared to 2008. Trailers or containers at 4,748,392 are up 11.3 percent year-over-year and down 7.6 percent compared to 2008.

Of the 19 carload commodities tracked by the AAR, 16 were up year-over-year. Metals were up 88.9 percent, and metallic ores were up 57 percent. Showing declines were pulp. paper, and allied products at -7.5 percent and farm products at -5.1 percent, among others.

Weekly rail volume was estimated at 32.3 billion ton-miles, a 12.5 percent year-over-year incrrease. And total volume year-to-date at 712.5 billion ton-miles was up 8.2 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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Article Topics

Rail Freight · Shipping · 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.
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