September 2012 carload and intermodal volumes are mixed, says AAR

September carloads—at 1,152,174—were down 3.7 percent—or 43,746 carloads— annually. Intermodal—at 973,715 trailers and containers—was up 2.5 percent—or 24,126 trailers and containers—compared to September 2011.

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Rail carload and intermodal volumes were mixed in September, according to data released by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) this week.

September carloads—at 1,152,174—were down 3.7 percent—or 43,746 carloads— annually. Intermodal—at 973,715 trailers and containers—was up 2.5 percent—or 24,126 trailers and containers—compared to September 2011.

“September rail traffic is again a mix of good news and bad news,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray in a statement.  “The primary bad news is that coal carloads continue to struggle, due to the various economic and regulatory constraints faced by coal-fired power plants. The good news is that many other key rail traffic categories are offsetting coal’s decline, including petroleum and petroleum products, motor vehicles, crushed stone and sand, and lumber. Intermodal volume has risen for 34 straight months and could very well set a new record this year.” 

Of the 20 major commodities tracked by the AAR, 13 were up on an annual basis in September. Petroleum and petroleum products were up 16.1 percent, and grain carloads were down 18.2 percent, marking the third consecutive month grain was down.

Commodities tracked by the AAR which saw annual gains in September included petroleum and petroleum products up 55.7 percent, crushed stone, sand and gravel up 12.3 percent, and motor vehicles and parts up 5.3 percent.

Commodities seeing annual declines included coal down 12.1 percent, metallic ores down 21.7 percent and waste and nonferrous scrap down 13.3 percent, among others.

For the week ending September 29, the AAR said that U.S. railroads hit 295,243 carloads for a 5.3 percent annual decrease, which was ahead of the 292,644 carloads recorded for the week ending September 22.

Weekly intermodal volume at 257,225 trailers and containers was up 2.5 percent annually and is also the single highest weekly intermodal tally of 2012 and the third highest volume week for intermodal ever recorded by the AAR.

At this week’s Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals Annual Conference in Atlanta many shippers told LM that intermodal continues to be a “go to” mode in light of increasing diesel prices, regulations being enforced for motor carriers, and cost savings in exchange for longer transit times.


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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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