Railroad Carloadings at Five-Month High

The good industry news is that rail carloadings are at their highest level in five months. The bad news, of course, is that overall volumes are still down double digits from the same period last year and likely won’t improve dramatically for at least several months.

The Association of American Railroads’ weekly traffic report showed the impact that the government’s Cash for Clunkers auto program has had on manufacturing production and some signs of inventory replenishment throughout the supply chain.

The AAR said the volumes show “slight improvement” with rail carloadings at their highest level since early March. Specifically, for the week ended Aug. 22, 2009, major U.S. freight railroads reported originating 279,478 carloads, down 16.1 percent from the same week in 2008. Carloadings were down 14.2 percent in the West and 18.9 percent in the East.

Intermodal volume of 193,207 trailers or containers on U.S. railroads was down 16.2 percent compared with the same week last year. Container volume fell 10.2 percent and trailer volume dropped 38.2 percent. Total volume on U.S. railroads for the week ending August 22 was estimated at 29.8 billion ton-miles, down 15.6 percent from the same week last year. Eighteen of the 19 carload freight commodity groups were down from last year, with only the nonmetallic mineral category bucking the trend with a 1.3-percent increase. Declines among the other commodities ranged from 5.7 percent for petroleum products to 49.3 percent for metallic ores.

For the first 33 weeks of 2009, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 8,715,641 carloads, down 18.8 percent from 2008; 6,151,511 trailers or containers, down 17.1 percent, and total volume of an estimated 927.7 billion ton-miles, down 17.9 percent.