Friday, June 08, 2012

AAR: Rail Traffic "mixed" in May

by Bill McBride on 6/08/2012 12:18:00 PM

Once again rail traffic was "mixed". This was mostly due to the sharp decline in coal traffic (mild winter, low natural gas prices). Most commodities were up, such as building related commodities such as lumber and crushed stone, gravel, sand. Lumber was up 16.9% from May 2011.

From the Association of American Railroads (AAR): AAR Reports Mixed Rail Traffic for May

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported U.S. rail carloads originated in May 2012 totaled 1,392,352, down 40,405 carloads or 2.8 percent, compared with May 2011. Intermodal volume in May 2012 was 1,178,312 trailers and containers, up 39,696 units or up 3.5 percent, compared with May 2011. The May 2012 weekly intermodal average of 235,662 trailers and containers is the highest May average in history.
Thirteen of the 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw carload gains in May 2012 compared with May 2011, including: motor vehicles, up 17,066 cars or 27.7 percent; petroleum and petroleum products, up 16,460 carloads, or 49.2 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 7,535 carloads, or 8.2 percent; lumber and wood products, up 2,357 carloads, or 16.9 percent, and primary metal products, up 2,260 carloads, or 4.3 percent.

Commodities with carload declines in May were led by coal, down 74,469 carloads, or 12.1 percent compared with May 2011. Other commodities with declines included grain, down 13,322 carloads, or 11.8 percent; chemicals, down 3,563 carloads, or 2.4 percent, and nonmetallic minerals, down 2,181 carloads, or 8.7 percent. Carloads excluding coal and grain were up 47,386 carloads, or 6.7 percent.
Rail Traffic Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows U.S. average weekly rail carloads (NSA).
It’s a broken record (for those of who you still remember what that phrase means) to say this, but coal and grain were again to blame for the U.S. carload decline in May. Coal carloads were down 12.1% (74,469 carloads) in May 2012 to 542,503 carloads. To look on the bright side, that’s an improvement over the 16.6% decline in April 2012 and the 15.8% decline in March 2012.

U.S. rail grain carloads totaled 99,372 in May 2012, down 11.8% (13,322 carloads) from May 2011.
Grains are down due to fewer exports.

Rail TrafficThe second graph is just for coal and shows the sharp decline this year.

From AAR:
It was another tough month for coal, in the U.S. at least. Coal carloads on U.S. railroads in May 2012 were down 12.1% (74,469 carloads) from May 2011, equivalent to 573 130-car coal trains. ... It would take a really, really hot summer for coal consumption in 2012 to come close to what it was in 2011.
The third graph is for intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers):

Rail TrafficGraphs reprinted with permission.

Intermodal traffic is now at peak levels.
U.S. intermodal traffic, which is not included in carloads, was up 3.5% (39,696 containers and trailers) in May 2012 over May 2011 to 1,178,312 units. The weekly average in May 2012 was 235,662 intermodal units, which is the highest average of any May in history and the 16th highest of any month in history.
The top months for intermodal are usually in the fall.