Monday, May 09, 2011

AAR: Rail Traffic "mixed" in April

by Bill McBride on 5/09/2011 02:25:00 PM

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reports carload traffic in April 2011 decreased 0.2 percent compared with the same month last year, and intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers) increased 9 percent compared with April 2010.

“April’s carload decline is the first year-over-year monthly decline since February 2010,” said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray. “April 2010 was a relatively strong month and therefore a difficult comparison, and coal traffic was down for the first time since July 2010. April’s carload decline was offset by continued intermodal growth. Rail traffic deserves a close watch over the next several months because it’s a useful gauge of the strength of the economy.”
Rail Traffic Click on graph for larger image in graph gallery.

This graph shows U.S. average weekly rail carloads (NSA).

From AAR:
On a seasonally adjusted basis, total U.S. rail carloads fell 2.5% in April 2011 from March 2011, continuing the up-down-up-down trend of the past couple of years. As the chart shows, since the recession ended in mid-2009, the trend for seasonally adjusted U.S. carload traffic has clearly been upward, but over the past six months it’s been flat and over the past four months it’s actually been down a bit. Time will tell if the upward trend reappears.
As the first graph shows, rail carload traffic collapsed in November 2008, and now, almost 2 years into the recovery, carload traffic has only recovered about half way.

Rail TrafficThe second graph is for intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers):
The news is much better on the intermodal side. In April 2011, U.S. railroads originated 914,518 intermodal trailers and containers, up 9.0% (75,706 units) over April 2010 and up 24.6% (180,417 units) over April 2009. April 2011’s weekly average was 228,630 units, up from 209,703 in April 2010 and the second highest average for any April in history (behind only April 2006).

Seasonally adjusted U.S. rail intermodal traffic was up 1.2% in April 2011 from March 2011, the fifth straight monthly increase.
excerpts with permission
Intermodal traffic is close to old highs, but carload traffic is only about half way back to pre-recession levels.