AAR reports January volumes are up year-over-year
February 10, 2011 - LM Editorial
Rail volumes in January were up compared to the same period in 2010, according to data released by the Association of American Railroads (AAR).
Rail carloads for January—at 1,142,293—were up 8 percent year-over-year. The weekly January average of 285,573 carloads was up 8 percent year-over-year and up 9 percent over January 2009, but it represents the lowest January average since 1994, said the AAR. On a seasonally-adjusted basis, carloads were up 7.4 percent from December.
Intermodal volumes in January came in at 863,099 trailers and containers for a 7.4 percent increase over January 2010. The weekly intermodal average for January was 215,775 for a 7.1 percent annual gain and up 10.1 percent over January 2009. On a seasonally-adjusted basis, January intermodal volumes were up 1.8 percent from December.
The AAR has noted in the past that domestic intermodal traffic in particular continues to see strong growth due to conversions of over-the-road domestic traffic to rail and growth in international trade. The AAR also said it reflects a years-long trend of domestic freight converting from truck trailers to containers on rail; truck containers can be double-stacked, which makes them more cost-efficient and effective.
It also noted that growth in intermodal traffic is a function of both a growing economy and growing international trade.
“Steady growth is good news for railroads and the economy, but there is still more ground to cover before we return to pre-recession levels,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “Rail is vital to connecting business to the marketplace, and the gradual gain in intermodal traffic as well as carloads shows how broad U.S. economic recovery may be.”
While railroad activity is clearly picking up, it is still lagging 2008 and earlier years on an absolute volume basis. And based on various economic indicators it is clear it will be a while more until rail volumes return to the same levels as previous years. Industry experts have told LM that rail traffic is in fact stronger than the macroeconomic, business, and general news headlines would suggest.
Of the 19 major commodities tracked by the AAR, 15 were up on an annual basis in January. Metallic ores were up 63 percent, primary metal products were up 21 percent, crushed stone, gravel, and sand were up 16.2 percent. Coal was up 8.8 percent.
Railroad employee numbers fell by 642 to 154,400 employees in November (the most recent month for which data is available).
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