Thursday, January 09, 2014

AAR: Record Intermodal Rail Traffic in 2013, Carloads down slightly

by Bill McBride on 1/09/2014 01:27:00 PM

From the Association of American Railroads (AAR): Freight Rail Traffic for 2013 Saw Record Intermodal Growth, Slight Dip in Carloads

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported that U.S. rail traffic for 2013 saw record intermodal growth with a slight full year decrease in carloadings. U.S. rail intermodal volume totaled a record 12.8 million containers and trailers in 2013, up 4.6 percent or 564,276 units, over 2012. Carloads totaled 14.6 million in 2013, down 0.5 percent or 76,784 carloads, from 2012. Intermodal volume in 2013 was the highest on record, surpassing the record high totals of 2006 by 549,471 units.

In 2013, 11 of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked annually by AAR saw increases on U.S. railroads compared with 2012. The categories with sizable gains were: petroleum and petroleum products, up 167,868 carloads or 31.1 percent; crushed stone, gravel and sand, up 81,023 carloads or 8.3 percent; motor vehicles and parts, up 41,166 carloads or 5.1 percent, and waste and nonferrous scrap, up 14,472 carloads or 9.1 percent.

The commodities with the largest carload declines in 2013 compared with 2012 were: coal, down 256,751 carloads or 4.3 percent; grain, down 81,309 carloads or 8 percent, and metallic ores, down 37,068 carloads or 9.9 percent. However, excluding coal and grain, those U.S. rail carloads which are reflective of the economy were up 261,276 carloads or 3.4 percent in 2013 over 2012.

“2013 ended the way it began — strong intermodal, weak coal, and mixed performance for other commodities, resulting in a year for rail traffic that could have been much better but also could have been much worse,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “A variety of indicators seem to be saying that the economy is slowly strengthening; a trend we expect to continue in 2014.”
emphasis added
Rail Traffic Click on graph for larger image.

This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows U.S. average weekly rail carloads (NSA).  Green is 2013.
In December 2013, U.S. railroads originated a total of 1,078,903 carloads, down 0.9% (9,978 carloads) from December 2012 and an average of 269,726 per week. That’s the lowest weekly average for a December since 2009 and the third lowest (behind 2008 and 2009) since 1988. ...

Blame coal. U.S. railroads originated 423,218 carloads of coal in December 2013, down 5.2% (23,159 carloads) from December 2012. For more on coal, see page 15. Excluding coal, U.S. carloads were up 2.1% (13,181 carloads) in December 2013

Rail TrafficGraphs and excerpts reprinted with permission.

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

Intermodal traffic set a record in 2013 and finished strong in December:
U.S. railroads originated 958,778 intermodal containers and trailers in December 2013, up 70,742 units (8.0%) over December 2012 and an average of 239,695 per week. That’s by far the highest weekly average for any December in history and is a fitting end to a great year for intermodal.

For all of 2013, U.S. rail intermodal volume totaled a record 12,831,692 containers and trailers, up 4.6% (564,276 units) over 2012 and 549,471 units more than the previous record set in 2006.
Rail traffic and the economy usually grow together, so this is a good sign for the overall economy.