Friday, February 08, 2013

AAR: Rail Traffic "mixed" in January

by Bill McBride on 2/08/2013 02:57:00 PM

From the Association of American Railroads (AAR): AAR Reports Mixed Rail Traffic for January, and Week Ending February 2

Intermodal traffic in January 2013 totaled 1,168,630 containers and trailers, up 5.3 percent (58,303 units) compared with January 2012. Carloads originated in January totaled 1,339,604 carloads, down 6.3 percent (90,199 carloads) compared with the same month last year. Carloads excluding coal and grain were up 1.8 percent (12,731 carloads) in January 2013 over January 2012.

In January, six of the 20 commodity groups posted increases compared with the same month last year, including: petroleum and petroleum products, up 54.1 percent or 22,892 carloads; crushed stone, gravel and sand, up 6.1 percent or 4,732 carloads, and lumber and wood products, up 14.6 percent or 2,032 carloads. Commodities with carload declines in January were led by coal, down 14.5 percent or 91,593 carloads; grain, down 11 percent or 11,337 carloads, and iron and steel scrap, down 18.7 percent or 4,675 carloads.

“The New Year brought a continuation of an old pattern: weakness in coal, strength in intermodal and petroleum products, and mixed results for everything else,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “Railroads recently announced that they expect to reinvest significantly in 2013 — an estimated $24.5 billion for the year — back into their systems. They’re making these investments because they are confident that demand for freight transportation, over the long term, will continue to grow.”
emphasis added
Rail Traffic Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows U.S. average weekly rail carloads (NSA).  Green is 2013.
In non-seasonally adjusted terms, U.S. railroads averaged 267,921 carloads per week in January 2013 — for a total of 1,339,604 carloads for the month — down 6.3% (90,199 carloads for the month) from January 2012. In percentage terms, it was the biggest year-over-year monthly decline since November 2009.

If you’ve been paying any attention at all for the past year, you can probably guess the main reason why overall carloads were down in January. Coal carloads totaled 538,878 for the month, down 14.5% (91,593 carloads) from January 2012. ...

Excluding coal and grain, U.S. rail carloads were up 1.8% (12,731 carloads) in January 2013 over January 2012
Note that building related commodities were up.

The second graph is for intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers):

Rail TrafficGraphs reprinted with permission.

Intermodal traffic is near peak levels (black line).
U.S. railroads originated 1,168,630 intermodal containers and trailers in January 2013, up 5.3% (58,303 units) over January 2012 and an average of 233,726 per week. That’s easily the highest weekly average of any January in history.
Intermodal will probably set a new record in 2013.