Intermodal Container Volume Hits 2011 High

Intermodal Container Volume Hits 2011 High

 Intermodal rail traffic for U.S. Class 1 railroads grew 8.7 percent year-over-year in the week ending May May 21, including a 10.2 percent gain in intermodal container loads to a new 2011 high, according to the Association of American Railroads.

The intermodal growth came as the major U.S. railroads saw a 2.3 percent year-over-year increase in carloads originated, extending a run of meager volume reports that includes slipping numbers for several key commodities.

The 295,148 carloads of bulk or heavy shipments in the week ending May 21 left the railroads 3.5 percent behind the April 2 weekly peak so far this year, when the carriers originated 305,905 carloads.

Intermodal loadings in the latest week by top U.S. lines counted 234,235 containers and trailers, nearly even with the April 2 peak and 2,360 more loadings than the previous week. The 201,363 intermodal container loadings were the most for the U.S. railroads this year, beating the previous weekly peak set April 2.

Intermodal volume for the full year so far was up 8.8 percent, including 9.3 percent for containers.

Although carload volume is still running 3.3 percent above the same point in 2010, the carload traffic has been relatively flat or slipping week-to-week since April.

When Canadian and Mexican traffic is included, the AAR said North American carloads in the May 21 week totaled 384,715 new shipments, well behind the April 2 peak of 399,971. However, intermodal moves across the continent — beyond just the dominant U.S. portion — are now their strongest so far year with 291,746 loads in the latest week.

Some of the weaker volume growth is likely the result of weather problems that curbed shipments, along with some cooling of underlying demand from the factory and consumer sectors.

— Contact John D. Boyd at Follow him on Twitter