A 3.8 percent increase in coal shipments from week to week pushed freight loadings for major North American railroads to their highest level in a month for the most recent week, but raw commodities for manufacturing showed ongoing weakness, according to the latest traffic report from the Association of American Railroads.
Coal, the largest rail cargo, helped push overall carloads up to to 373,381 units in the week ending July 24 from 365,096 a week earlier.
That was 7.5 percent better than same week a year ago and the strongest level since June 19 in the types of freight hauled in large-volume railcars. But it still trailed activity in April and May.
Industry officials say the nation’s heat wave has finally helped draw down the once-large coal stockpiles at power plants, prompting utilities to load more. Coal loadings were just about flat compared to last year.
But originations of new loads of metals, ores and scrap were all below recent peaks. So were hauls of construction related sand and gravel, lumber and logs, and a group of semi-finished building stone, clay and glass products.
Motor vehicles and equipment jumped 41 percent from the week before and 21.8 percent over the same week a year ago.
The major railroads originated 282,590 intermodal shipments in the third full week of July, slightly below the 282,879 in the July 17 week. Until recently intermodal traffic had kept rising even as carload freight was weakening; now intermodal also appears to have at least paused in its upward momentum, since peaking at 284,891 containers or trailers in the June 19 week.
Several key cargoes were still near their 2010 highs, including chemicals and metallic ores. Both are early input materials for the factory sector and are sensitive to shifts in manufacturing demand, and the numbers suggest factories are stocking up on raw materials almost as fast as in the spring, as they fill orders.
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