Intermodal freight shipments moved by U.S. railroads jumped 16.8 percent year-over-year in the week ending Feb. 4, as steady freight demand and unseasonably warm weather created an easy comparison with the same week a year ago.
Carload traffic rose 6.2 percent year-over-year, with 16 of the 20 commodity groups tracked by the Association of American Railroads posting gains. For the first five weeks of 2012, carloads were up 1.3 percent, and intermodal traffic 4.5 percent.
The year-over-year volume figures rose sharply from the previous week, when intermodal traffic was up 5.5 percent from a year ago and carloads down 2.8 percent, according to the AAR. Intermodal container traffic was up 7.2 percent.
Week-to-week, intermodal shipment volume dropped 1 percent, while carload traffic was almost flat. That indicates the severe storms of early 2011 had more to do with the favorable comparison than a sudden surge in freight traffic.
However, there were signs that an increase in manufacturing and other industrial activity contributed to the percentage improvement in the fifth week of 2012.
Metallic ore and auto shipments were up 63.2 percent and 42 percent, respectively, while shipments of petroleum products rose 40.5 percent year-over-year. That helped offset declines in agricultural shipments, including grain, and coal.
The same underlying trend was visible in January, according to AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray, who pointed to increased shipments of a number of commodities that are more highly correlated with GDP growth than coal and grain.
“That’s a sign that the underlying economy is probably stronger than you would think if you just looked at the rail traffic totals,” Gray said in a statement.