Major U.S. railroads continued to load their trains last week at a pace close to recent levels, in keeping with a freight recovery that is now moving in a narrow volume range.
The Association of American Railroads said the few regional carriers that report to it and U.S. operations of the Class I lines picked up 275,545 bulk carloads of commodities, finished equipment and intermediate supplies in the week ending Oct. 17.
That was up from 273,429 a week earlier, down from 277,734 as of Oct. 3 and well below the year’s high of 285,580 the week of Aug. 29.
Intermodal traffic, at 206,139 units originated, was also down from the past two weeks, though it still ranked as the third-strongest level this year. That included 174,694 goods-carrying containers – many of which ride double-stacked aboard special “well” cars -- and 31,445 trailers with their chassis that piggyback onto flatcars.
Combined carload and intermodal traffic was down 13.9 percent in the Oct. 17 week from a year earlier, AAR said, based on estimated ton-miles.
This is the time of year when rail intermodal hauls peak, as a swell of import containers for retailers stocking up ahead of year-end sales adds to the usual flow of domestic containers and trailers. During the week of Oct. 10, new intermodal loadings by the U.S. majors reached 208,941 boxes; that was the highest so far of 2009, although it was 11 percent lower than in the same week of 2008.
Among commodities, large railroads last week loaded 129,823 railcars full of coal, for the most since Sept. 19. However, that largest rail freight category is slowed this year by lack of electrical utility demand, due to big on-site coal stockpiles at power plants and as the recession and mild weather combine to curb electricity use.
Most other bulk cargo loadings declined from earlier this month, but remained near recent levels. That suggests industrial demand is holding up, even if it is no longer growing steadily as in late summer.
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