A barrage of tough winter storms that hit large parts of North America with blizzard conditions, ice or dangerous cold temperatures put a dent into rail traffic this month, but not as much as a major holiday would do.
New figures from the Association of American Railroads suggest rail freight traffic is holding strong in December for retail-related intermodal shipments as well as bulk carload cargoes linked to manufacturing demand.
The major North American railroads saw new intermodal loadings for the week ending Dec. 18 fall to 270,707 loads from 288,705 a week earlier. The latest week covers a period when the AAR said Midwest blizzards affected U.S. railroads, and when Canadian carriers were plowing through thick snowstorms on both sides of the border.
By The Numbers: U.S. Rail Cargo.
By comparison, the big Class I railroads and some large regionals that report traffic to the AAR had originated fewer intermodal container and trailer loads in the weeks that included U.S. Labor Day and Thanksgiving holidays. The Dec. 18 volume also remains higher than most of last spring, when the intermodal market was rapidly heating up.
For carload freight -- which includes bulk commodities and some semi-finished goods like metal and lumber or finished goods like vehicles – the major railroads across North America originated 356,669 units in the Dec. 18 week. That is well above what they carried in the week that included the two-day Thanksgiving period, and just mildly behind the Labor Day week’s volume.
Some bulk cargoes actually increased last week despite the weather that briefly closed some upper Midwest consumer centers and rail yards with deep snows, and swept other sections of the U.S. East and South with cold temperatures that slowed outdoor work.
A key one was chemicals, which edged higher in the latest week to 45,387 carloads. That is the second-largest rail cargo and because chemicals are used to make a wide range of products their rail volume tends to rise or remain strong when factory demand is solid.
Among others, railroads hauled more metals and metal products last week than the week before and more than any week in November. Auto shipments slipped just moderately, scrap loadings stayed in their recent range, and railroads hauled more grain, lumber and paper or pulp products than a week earlier.
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.