A spike in containerized shipments lifted rail intermodal volume at mid-May, but major North American railroads and short lines are seeing traffic flatten for many cargoes in the bulk carload categories.
The Association of American Railroads said intermodal container and trailer loadings swelled to 273,059 new shipments at 13 major carriers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico during the week ended May 15, from 260,615 the prior week.
For just U.S.-owned lines in the report, the AAR said intermodal volume was the highest since November 2008. The latest week was up 16.2 percent from the same time in 2009, but that compares with a point in the recession when traffic was falling and near its lows.
Yet the numbers are different for an array of bulk shipments that reflect either new factory demand for inputs or how fast they are shipping semi-finished and finished goods by rail. The 377,661 carloads that large North American railroads originated in the May 15 week are down more than 10,000 from three weeks earlier, even though the count is 19.9 percent above the 2009 week.
Similarly, the tally from 340 short lines in the U.S. and Canada was 95,456 loads of all types in the May 15 week, down about 5,000 units from April 24. RMI’s RailConnect report shows the short line traffic moving in a narrow range since then.
The latest volume of new shipments for small railroads was up from 93,950 new shipments in the week of May 8, however, and up 13.65 percent from a year earlier.
Various rail industry sources, intermodal middlemen and shippers say rail is pulling a larger share of long-haul box moves away from trucking, mainly for goods originating and terminating within the continent. Large North American railroads hauled 238,927 stackable containers in the latest week, and 34,132 trailers that must ride single-decked.
Yet the AAR carload numbers show mild declines from recent highs across coal, chemicals, intermediate metals/products, scrap recycling materials, raw ores and various categories linked to the building industry from wood to glass products.
-- Contact John D. Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org.