North America’s major railroads saw intermodal volume rise 14.7 percent in 2010, while their railcar loads of commodities and bulk shipments including automobiles, lumber and chemicals rose 9.4 percent overall.
That includes the seven Class I major railroads plus some regional lines in the U.S., Canada and Mexico that report their figures to the Association of American Railroads.
Although the 2010 figures show big gains over 2009, when the recession bottomed out, they are still below both the 2008 recession year and pre-recession levels in 2007.
By The Numbers: U.S. Intermodal Shipments.
In 2010, the carriers originated 14.08 million loadings of intermodal units for the year – dominated by 12.29 million revenue moves of containers but including 1.79 million trailer moves.
Most of that traffic came from U.S. railroads, whose 11.28 million intermodal loads were up 14.2 percent from 2009, but traffic rebounded faster in Canada and Mexico.
The big North American carriers loaded 19.32 million railcars in 2010 with bulk materials and manufacturing products that use specialty railcars. The U.S. rail lines generated 14.82 million carloads.
The AAR has been breaking out full North American traffic figures for just the last two years. But using the U.S. rail data that comprises most of the continent’s traffic, the 2010 intermodal volume of 11.28 million units for major U.S. lines was 1.9 percent below 2008’s 11.5 million, and down 7.5 percent from the 12.19 million they carried in 2007. So railroads after a strong intermodal rebound in 2010 regained much of the box traffic they lost in the downturn.
In carload categories, however, they still need a lot more recovery to make up for the recession’s impact. The 14.82 million carload units that big U.S. railroads hauled in 2010 were down 10 percent from the 16.46 million they carried in 2008. And in the past year carload traffic was 14 percent below that of 2007, when they carried 17.23 million units.
Within carload categories, in the 2010 recovery year they eked out a small 2.2 increase from 2009 in coal traffic – their largest cargo by far. But chemical shipments, the industry’s second-largest category, gained 13.3 percent, and third-ranked grain loadings grew 6.6 percent.
And some categories surged, in line with a rebound for heavy industry. Rail shipments of raw metallic ores jumped 53 percent, semi-finished metals and metal products surged 41 percent and finished motor vehicle shipments gained 23 percent. Loadings of coke, the high-heat coal used in metal foundries, rose 22 percent.
Milder gains in many categories reflected the uneven nature of the past-year recovery. But they included a 9.6 percent increase in lumber shipments linked to building construction and remodeling, and a 15 percent rise in crushed stone and sand used in road work and construction site preparation.
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