Rail Traffic Decline Continues for July

The rail traffic report for July continued a negative trend but showed some "interesting" signs, according to an industry expert.

"July was an interesting month," said Association of American Railroads Senior Vice President John T. Gray. "If you see the glass as half full, 14 carload commodity categories were ‘less worse off' than they were in the first half of the year. But then you remember 15 commodity groups still saw double-digit declines relative to last year, including metals and products down 48 percent and motor vehicles down 38 percent."

He noted that the automotive performance was an improvement over recent levels, but that it was supported by a billion dollars of federal assistance. "When this assistance ends, it remains to be seen whether the combination of production, inventory and sales levels will continue to boost railcar loadings," Gray said.

The AAR reported that U.S. railroads moved 1.3 million carloads of freight in July 2009, down 17.5 percent (280,659 carloads) compared with July 2008. U.S. intermodal rail traffic totaled 922,734 units in July 2009, down 18 percent (203,061 trailers and containers) compared with July 2008.

For the first seven months of 2009, total U.S. rail carloadings were down 19.0 percent (1,854,657 carloads) to 7,885,039 carloads, while intermodal traffic was down 17.2 percent (1,153,208 units) to 5,569,802 trailers and containers.

All 19 major commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw carload declines in July. The biggest carload declines were coal (down 9.9 percent, or 68,879 carloads); metals and metal products (down 47.7 percent, or 29,849 carloads); metallic ores (down 58.9 percent, or 26,724 carloads); and crushed stone and gravel (down 25.8 percent, or 26,402 carloads).