Box Traffic Lifts Holiday Week Rail Volumes

Container traffic on major U.S. railroads was up during the holiday week ended Dec. 26, but carload freight and total volume were down from year-ago levels , according to a report from the Association of American Railroads.

Intermodal traffic totaled 141,699 trailers and containers, up 14.2 percent from 2008 but down 10.7 percent from 2007. Compared with the same week in 2008, container volume rose 21.6 percent and trailer volume dropped 14.5 percent.

Carload freight totaled 197,754 cars, down 1.1 percent from 2008 and 22.3 percent from 2007. In the Eastern U.S., carloads were up 1.3 percent compared with the same week last year, but off 25.2 percent compared with 2007. In the West, carloads were down 2.3 percent compared with 2008, and 20.7 percent compared with the same week in 2007.

Carload volume was down largely because of a 21,000-carload (19.1 percent) drop in coal loadings. Seventeen of the other 18 carload freight commodity groups were up compared with the same week in 2008, with fourteen reporting double-digit increases, including motor vehicles (52.1 percent); lumber and wood products (44.8 percent); grain (31.1 percent); metals (31.7 percent) and chemicals (18.7 percent).

Total volume was estimated at 22.1 billion ton-miles, down 0.9 percent from the comparable 2008 week, and down 17.5 percent from the comparable 2007 week.

On a year-to-date basis, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 13,585,290 carloads, down 16.3 percent from 2008 and 18.2 percent from 2007; 9,731,474 trailers or containers, down 14.3 percent from 2008 and 17.8 percent from 2007, and total volume of an estimated 1.47 trillion ton-miles, down 15.4 percent from 2008 and 16.3 percent from 2007.

Railroads in Canada and Mexico, meanwhile, reported strong traffic volumes for the holiday week but overall decline in business on an annual basis. Canadian railroads had volume of 55,572 cars for the week, up 33.5 percent from 2008, and 30,653 trailers or containers, up 49 percent from 2008. For the first 51 weeks of 2009, Canadian railroads reported cumulative volume of 3,192,327 carloads, down 18.2 percent from the previous year, and 2,084,051 trailers or containers, down 14.2 percent from 2008.

Mexican railroads reported originated volume of 10,718 cars, up 37.7 percent from the same week in 2008, and 5,462 trailers or containers, up 53.3 percent. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 51 weeks of 2009 was reported as 594,083 carloads, down 9.5 percent from the previous year, and 284,211 trailers or containers, down 12.9 percent.

Total North American rail volume for the first 51 weeks of 2009 on 13 U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 17,371,700 carloads, down 16.4 percent from 2008, and 12,099,736 trailers and containers, down 14.2 percent from the year-earlier period.

For a closer look inside the rail numbers, view the AAR's weekly rail traffic charts.