Weekly carload and intermodal volumes hit 2010 record highs, says AAR

Recent volumes for U.S. railroads continue to be record-breaking as evidenced by intermodal and carload volumes for the week ending August 28, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

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Recent volumes for U.S. railroads continue to be record-breaking as evidenced by intermodal and carload volumes for the week ending August 28, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

Following two consecutive weeks of 2010 weekly highs for 2010, the week ending August 28 made it a hat trick, with intermodal traffic—at 237,194 trailers and containers—up 17.1 percent year-over-year and down 1.2 percent from the same week in 2008. Intermodal traffic came in at 236,404 and 233,767 trailers and containers respectively for the weeks ending August 21 and August 14, respectively, which both were highs for the year.

Intermodal container volume—at 202,442— was up 18.1 percent compared to 2009 and up 7 percent compared to 2008, falling just short of the week ending August 21, which hit 202,475. And trailer volume—at 34,752— was up 11.4 percent and down 31.7 percent compared to 2008.

As LM has reported, domestic intermodal performance continues to be strong, due, in part, to a tightening of truckload capacity, which has some shippers converting to intermodal. This is indicative, said the AAR, of a years-long trend of domestic freight converting from truck trailers to containers on rail; truck trailers can be double-stacked, which makes them more cost-efficient and effective.

Weekly carload volumes—at 302,358—were up 5.8 percent year-over-year and down 11.3 percent compared to 2008. This beat the week ending August 21 at 296,334 and the week ending August 14 at 295,948. It topped the week ending July 31, which hit 300,292 carloads, and was the previous best weekly carload output for all of 2010.

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 4.7 percent year-over-year and down 12.5 percent compared to 2008. And out West carloads were up 6.6 percent year-over-year and down 10.5 percent compared to 2008.

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 9,640,718 carloads are up 7.1 percent year-over-year and down 12.9 percent compared to 2008. Trailers or containers at 7,257,418 are up 14.3 percent year-over-year and down 5.3 percent compared to 2008.

Of the 19 carload commodities tracked by the AAR, 15 were up year-over-year. Metallic ores were up 62.2 percent and metals & products were up 40.2 percent.

Weekly rail volume was estimated at 33.2 billion ton-miles, a 7.1 percent year-over-year increase. And total volume year-to-date at 1,060.7 billion ton-miles was up 8.3 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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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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