September carloads and intermodal units post annual gains, says AAR
October 04, 2013
Both United States carload and intermodal volumes in September were up annually, according to data released by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) this week.
The AAR reported that September carloads—at 1,159,784—were up 0.7 percent over September 2012. Of the 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR, 11 saw annual gains with crushed stone, sand, and gravel up 10.0 percent, motor vehicles and parts up 12.0 percent, and petroleum and petroleum products up 10.4 percent.
Coal and grain continued to show decreases, down 2.7 percent and 11.3 percent respectively. The AAR noted that when removing coal carloads were up 3.0 percent, and when removing coal and grain they were up 4.9 percent for the month.
“Those who follow the rail industry know that carloads of grain and coal can rise or fall by substantial amounts for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the state of the economy,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray in a statement. “Not so with most other rail traffic categories, however. The fact that rail carloads excluding coal and grain were up 4.9 percent in September — the biggest year-over-year monthly gain since last December — is a hopeful sign.”
Intermodal containers and trailers were up 4.4 percent annually with 1,027,522 containers and trailers.
The AAR said that the weekly intermodal average of 256,881 units marked the second highest monthly average ever recorded, as well as posting the three highest-volume weeks for U.S. railroads, with the Labor Day holiday preventing it from posting the highest intermodal month ever.
Speakers at last week’s FTR Transportation Conference in Indianapolis highlighted intermodal’s strength of late.
Mark Yeager, Vice Chairman and COO of freight transportation, logistics, and intermodal services provider Hub Group, explained that intermodal is doing a great job in competing with the truckload market, as well as in taking share.
“Intermodal is on a roll, and domestic intermodal has continued to grow well,” Yeager said. “I think we are seeing a pretty normalized intermodal environment out there that means we are seeing a normal uptick in activity. The West Coast has been solid but nothing [booming] like we saw in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Because we have really been in a freight recession since 2006, you have not really seen the volatile peaks that maybe we saw back in the late 90’s and early 00’s. A lot of the strength in intermodal has to do with stability and shipper confidence and consistent and reliable service that offers an opportunity to substantially reduce supply chain costs. As long as intermodal service remains reliable, we are likely to see it continue to take share.”
The AAR reported that for the week ending September 28, U.S-based railroads moved 296,809 carloads for a 0.5 percent annual gain, and intermodal was up 1.6 percent at 269,853 loadings. And on a year-to-date basis through the first 39 weeks of 2013, the AAR said that carloads were down 0.9 percent at 10,940,538, and intermodal was up 1.2 percent at 9,547,764.
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