A broad-based pickup in bulk railcar shipments pushed freight carloads up 2.2 percent at major North American railroads in the week ending Oct. 1, setting a new 2011 high for commodity and equipment loadings.
The Association of American Railroads said Class I and regional carriers that report traffic to the trade group originated 408,383 carloads last week. That was 8,804 loads more than a week earlier, equal to about 100 more trains hauling materials, automobiles and other non-intermodal cargoes.
It was also 4.5 percent higher than the same week last year, and the strongest year-over-year weekly gain since April 2 after months in which carloads often rose just 1 percent or less from the 2010 pace. For all of September, the AAR said carloads grew just 1.1 percent from a year ago.
The new strength in rail activity comes despite concern that the economy could be stalling, and is in line with some rebound showing up in the factory sector.
Automobile traffic on major railroads across the continent finally ended the slump that set in after the earthquake in Japan roiled the supply chain last spring. Carriers picked up 25,440 carloads of motor vehicles and equipment last week, a 7.2 percent jump from the Sept. 24 week and 4.9 percent above the previous 2011 peak on April 2.
Coal and lumber shipments also reached new 2011 highs for major railroads, as utilities rebuild coal stockpiles after a blistering summer while construction of apartment buildings supports lumber demand.
North American railroads also originated the most chemical shipments and carloads of semi-finished metals in five months. Both point toward more industrial activity, since chemicals are used in a wide array of products and metals are used in everything from railcars to autos to appliances.