U.S. railroads reported an 11.7 percent year-over-year gain in carload traffic in the last full week before Christmas as major commodities tied to manufacturing and housing maintained strong momentum heading into the holiday period.
The carload volume even grew 2.5 percent in the week ending Dec. 17 from the week before, according to figures from the Association of American Railroads that show major freight railroads remain on a growth track that has seen them growing beyond broader fundamentals in the U.S. economy.
The latest improvements were helped by week-to-week gains in coal, forest products, grain and iron and steel scrap shipments along with relatively stable traffic in chemicals, paper and metallic ores.
Metallic ores surged 57.1 percent over depressed figures from a year ago while metals grew 10.1 percent.
Shipments of motor vehicles and equipment jumped 20.1 percent year-over-year and forest products soared 20.7 percent along with a 10.8 percent increase in lumber and wood products that likely was helped by an uptick in the housing market.
Intermodal volume gained 6 percent year-over-year, including a 7.9 percent increase in container traffic, the AAR said. But the intermodal business also slipped back 2.7 percent from the week before in a normal seasonal slowdown.
Raw commodities that are the backbone of industrial production have pushed carload growth for the U.S. railroads this year. Metallic ore shipments were up 21.1 percent in the first 50 weeks of the year over the same period a year ago, and metal products grew 11.9 percent in the same period.
Intermodal volume was 5.1 percent ahead of last year’s total through the first 50 weeks of 2011, according to the AAR figures. Container business has led the expansion, growing 5.6 percent, while truck trailer volume is up only 2 percent from a year ago and has been slipping backward toward the end of the year.