AAR May carload and intermodal data is up and down

Railroad carload traffic in May was flat year-over-year with a 0.5 percent annual gain, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR). Intermodal saw steady gains compared to last year.

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Railroad carload traffic in May was flat year-over-year with a 0.5 percent annual gain, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR). Intermodal saw steady gains compared to last year.

“For the second month in a row, rail intermodal traffic was great, while carload traffic left something to be desired,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray, in a statement.  “Like other national indicators, rail traffic reflects a degree of uncertainty regarding the direction of the economy.  Railroads join everyone else in hoping current trends are just a bump in the road rather than a portent of things to come.”

Total May carloads came in at 1,159,328, and the weekly carload average in May was 289,932 per week compared to 294,319 in April.

Intermodal activity continued its hectic pace with a 7.5 percent annual increase at 932,956 trailers and containers. The AAR said that on a seasonally-adjusted basis, May carloads were flat and intermodal was up 0.8 percent compared to April.

What’s more, the AAR said intermodal’s weekly average in May at 233,239 was the second highest May tally ever recorded by the AAR, explaining that the difference between May 206 and May 2011 of 277 containers and trailers per week equates to about what a double-sized container train carries. And had one more weekly intermodal train per week moved, May 2011 would have been the highest week month ever recorded for intermodal traffic, said the AAR.

“We are more and more convinced that the domestic intermodal product led by container growth is a growth story being driven by shipper demand amidst capacity concerns,” said

Tony Hatch, principal of New York-based ABH Consulting.  “And driver shortages, regulatory issues, and oil prices and carbon are more entrenched a year later—it is an exciting product and it is going to grow10 percent or so and as we get to Peak Season we will see that capacity used up and even potentially face shortage issues again. It is healthy growth for an economy growing at a fraction of that.”

Intermodal is continuing its strong run for a variety of factors, according to industry experts, including supply capacity, which remains tight in the trucking market and lowering supply chain expenses at a time when fuel costs remain high, among others.

Of the 20 major commodities tracked by the AAR, 8 were up year-over-year. Metallic ores were up 17.6 percent, and grain was up 16.3 percent.  Coal was down 1.8 percent.

Railroad employee numbers increased by 935 to 156,777 employees in April from March (the most recent month for which data is available).

And as of June 1, the AAR said that 279,083 freight cars—or 18.4 percent of the total fleet—were in storage, a decrease of 2,855 cars from May 1.

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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