AAR says November 2010 volumes are up year-over-year
December 07, 2010 - LM Editorial
November rail volumes were up compared to the same period in 2009, according to data released by the Association of American Railroads (AAR).
The AAR reported that monthly rail carloads for November—at 1,137,626—were up 4.5 percent year-over-year. The weekly November average of 284,407 carloads was up 4.5 percent year-over-year and was the ninth straight month with a higher annual average for weekly carloads, which the AAR said has not occurred since 2004. November’s weekly carload tally fell short of October’s average of 299,108 carloads, which was the highest since October 2008. On a seasonally-adjusted basis, carloads were down 1.1 percent from October
Intermodal volumes continued their strong showing, with 883,755 trailers and containers for an 11.3 percent increase over November 2009. This fell short of October’s 941,775 trailers and containers and was impacted by the Thanksgiving holiday. The weekly intermodal average for November was 220,939, trailing October’s 235,444, which was the highest since October 2007 and the 12th highest weekly monthly average on record for intermodal, according to the AAR. On a seasonally-adjusted basis, November intermodal volumes were down 0.4 percent from October.
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.
“Even though U.S. rail volumes were down in November from October levels — due largely to Thanksgiving — November marks the 11th straight month in which rail volumes were higher than year-earlier levels,” said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray in a statement. “That hasn’t happened since January 2006. Granted, 2009 was a bad year for rail traffic, but like the economy in general, rail traffic has been slowly improving. We’re hopeful that recent gains in consumer confidence and some recent encouraging signs regarding consumer spending will mean a continuation of economic growth and further growth in rail traffic.”
As LM has reported, while railroad activity is clearly picking up compared to a dismal 2009, 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.
An industry expert recently noted in an interview that rail traffic is in fact stronger than the macroeconomic, business, and general news headlines would suggest. The expert explained that railroad volumes are facing tougher comparisons and are lapping the beginning of the economic recovery as opposed to the April and May trough.
Of the 19 major commodities tracked by the AAR, 14 were up on an annual basis. Metallic ores were up 86 percent, primary metal products were up 26 percent, crushed stone, gravel, and sand were up 18.7 percent, and coke was up 19.9 percent.
Railroad employee numbers rose by 191 to 154,285 employees in October (the most recent month for which data is available). And the AAR said 465 rail cars were brought back into service in November, with 317,810 cars—or about 20.8 percent—of the North American railcar fleet currently remaining in storage.
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