Bulk carload traffic at major North American railroads rose 2.8 percent in week ending Aug. 20 from a week earlier, setting a new volume peak for 2011.
The large railroads originated 392,743 carloads in the third week of August, a gain of 10,856 from the seven days ending Aug. 13.
A big jump in coal traffic led the increase, but carriers also loaded more railcars with automobiles and saw smaller but broad increases across a range of industrial cargoes.
The Association of American Railroads said the continent’s Class I carriers and large regional lines in the report picked up 2.8 percent more carloads than in the same week of 2010. That was the strongest year-over-year gain in the two months since the week ending June 18, which was before rail traffic slowed in late June and through most of July.
Coal, which is the largest commodity by car count that large railroads haul, had been in a long slump as electrical utilities continued to work through big stockpiles of the fuel and as a slow economy this summer curbed industrial demand for it.
But rail executives and analysts kept saying the prolonged summer heat wave would eat into the power plant stocks, while ebbing Midwest flood waters would soon make it easier to ship long trainloads of coal.
The major railroads added 7,029 carloads of coal in the latest week to 145,121 units, the most they had loaded since April 2 and the second-highest volume week this year. Motor vehicles and other equipment filled 22,181 carloads last week, the most since June 18.
The large railroads also posted their strongest volume this month for metal ores, scrap metal, semi-finished metal products, chemicals and lumber. That’s in line with some moderate strengthening in demand, but comes at a time when many economic signals have been weak or mixed.