Intermodal loadings by the major North American railroads slowed last week to the weakest levels since snowstorms rocked the freight system in early to mid-February.
The carriers, which include all of the seven Class I railroads plus some sizable regional lines that report traffic to the Association of American Railroads, originated 243,351 boxed loads in the week ending April 3. That was down from 263,169 in the March 27 week and was the lowest since Feb 6.
For just the largest U.S.-owned railroads, new intermodal shipments fell to 196,257 loads last week from 210,914 a week earlier and were the lowest since Feb. 13.
Rail freight traffic has maintained most of its recent strength, especially in carloads of bulk materials and equipment. Yet carloadings also slowed some for the North American majors, to 372,270 units in the April 3 week from 383,109 in the week ending March 27. The latest carloads are the lowest since Feb. 20.
Despite the sequential declines, traffic remains well ahead of last year. Total North American carloads last week were up 11.2 percent from the same week of the 2009 recession year, while intermodal was up 6 percent. But the latest intermodal volume fell behind its year-to-date growth pace, while carloads continued to increase their year-to-year gains.
Among the good signs for the latest week were that chemical loads were slightly higher, which points to sustained industrial demand. Railroads also loaded more metallic ores that are used in early stages of manufacturing, more primary forest products that supply construction and more pulp and paper that can reflect demand by factories, offices and the construction industry.
But coal and grain loadings slipped, as did rail hauls of various base construction materials, finished motor vehicles and intermediate metal products.
Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.