Traffic surged at major North American railroads in the first full week of January, compared with the same point in 2010, as bulk carload shipments jumped 16.1 percent and intermodal moves increased 7.5 percent.
Year-over-year gains were even stronger for the U.S. owned rail lines that account for most rail activity. The Association of American Railroads said the big U.S. carriers - mostly Class I railroads plus a few regional lines that report to the AAR - saw carloads rise 20.1 percent from a year earlier while intermodal grew 8.6 percent.
The volume spikes could partly reflect catch-up traffic from recent yearend holidays and weather delays, as a series of tough winter storms struck various sections of the continent over the past month. A new storm earlier this week in the South and Northeast could shrink volume levels for the week that ends Jan. 15.
Still, the report for the week ending Jan. 8 is the latest in a series of indications that underlying freight demand continues to grow, along with more drawdowns of idled railcars in December and mild job gains for transportation and warehousing industries.
The Jan. 8 intermodal weekly volume of 264,038 containers and trailers is the most since mid-December, while carload shipments of bulk commodities and large equipment including automobiles at 368,809 units are the highest since the week ending Dec. 11.
The initial January weekly volume follows a 14.7 percent rise in intermodal traffic in 2010 for major North American carriers, while carload shipments of bulk commodities and large equipment including automobiles grew 9.4 percent. Rail analysts say the industry faces tougher year-ago comparisons in 2011 that might blunt the average percentage gains.
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