Rail freight carloadings for key commodities increased 7.2 percent in January over the same month of 1987, continuing a 12-month series of month-over-month


Led by a surge of grain carloadings, up 24.1 percent, and metals, up 21.4 percent over January 1987, rail carloadings for the eight commodities tracked by The Journal of Commerce reached 1,614,869 for the first four full weeks of the year. This was 108,838 over the 1.5million carloads in the comparable period a year ago.Data for the monthly review of rail freight traffic are provided by Atlantic Systems Corp., a New York consulting firm. According to Atlantic Systems data, all major railroads except for Chicago and North Western Transportation Co. participated in the gains.

The Santa Fe, helped by grain traffic that was nearly twice the level of a year ago, had a 16.5 percent gain in originated and received carloads. Norfolk Southern and Burlington Northern also reported gains in excess of 9 percent.

Drew Robertson, president of Atlantic Systems, pointed out that Conrail had gains in intermodal traffic, coal, coke and scrap, masking serious deterioration of high revenue motor vehicle traffic.

Motor vehicle traffic declined 7.3 percent for all railroads tracked. Forest products, down 3.6 percent, was the only other commodity group showing a drop.

The important intermodal category - strong for more than a year - increased 6.3 percent over January 1987.

Coal - important for CSX, Norfolk Southern, Conrail and Burlington Northern - climbed 6.9 percent, buoyed by utility and steel company efforts to build inventories during January. The coal industry was in negotiations then with the United Mine Workers for a new labor agreement, which was reached without a work stoppage at the beginning of February.

Rail traffic continued its year-long growth pattern, Mr. Robertson said. Few signs of an economic slowdown are yet apparent.

Some commodities that fueled the strong third and fourth quarters of 1987 continued to drive rail traffic growth.

Steel industry production and rail traffic is far ahead of depressed levels of early 1987, Mr. Robertson pointed out.