Intermodal Continues to Dominate in 2004

WASHINGTON — The year ended with a bang for railroads — for the first time ever, intermodal volume on U.S. railroads has topped 10 million trailers and containers in a single year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) said in December.

During the week ending Dec. 4, railroads moved 232,798 trailers and containers, up 14.9 percent from last year, the AAR said. This brought the total for the year to 10,196,913 trailers and containers, an increase of 10 percent from the first 48 weeks last year when the previous annual record was set.

Also for the week ending Dec. 4, carload freight — which doesn’t include the intermodal data — totaled 349,727 cars, up 0.6 percent from a year ago with loadings up 3.7 percent in the East and down 1.9 percent in the West. Total volume was estimated at 32.8 billion ton-miles, up 0.6 percent from last year.

Eleven of 19 carload commodities registered gains from last year, with metallic ores up 20.1 percent; lumber and wood products up 16.4 percent; and metals up 16.4 percent. Among commodities reporting declines were grain, down 16.2 percent; other farm products, down 23.5 percent; and coke, down 10.8 percent.

The AAR also reported the following cumulative totals for U.S. railroads during the first 48 weeks of 2004: 16,184,086 carloads, up 2.9 percent from last year; and total volume of an estimated 1.491 trillion ton-miles, up 5.0 percent from last year’s first 48 weeks.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ending Dec. 4 carload traffic totaled 71,163 cars, up 1.3 percent from last year while intermodal volume totaled 44,248 trailers or containers, up 4.8 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 48 weeks of 2004 on the Canadian railroads totaled 3,238,834 carloads, up 6.9 percent from last year, and 2,023,461 trailers and containers, up 0.3 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 48 weeks of 2004 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 19,422,920 carloads, up 3.5 percent from last year and 12,220,374 trailers and containers, up 8.2 percent from last year.

The AAR also reported that originated carload freight on the Mexican railroad Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) during the week ended Dec. 4 totaled 7,314 cars, down 15.8 percent from last year. TFM reported intermodal volume of 3,218 originated trailers or containers, down 9.5 percent from the 48th week of 2003. For the first 48 weeks of 2004, TFM reported cumulative originated volume of 417,918 cars, up 3.2 percent from last year, and 181,774 trailers or containers, up 8.0 percent.

U.S. freight railroads for the week ending Nov. 20 set weekly records for both total freight traffic and intermodal volume, according to statistics released by the AAR.

Total volume of 33.2 billion ton-miles bested the previous weekly mark of 33.1 billion ton-miles reached during the weeks ending Oct. 30 and Oct. 16. And intermodal volume of 238,961 trailers or containers was 3,085 more than in the week ending Oct. 30, when the previous intermodal record was set.

The ton-mile volume was up 2.8 percent from the corresponding week last year while intermodal traffic showed a 13.1 percent gain from a year ago.

Carload freight, which doesn’t include the intermodal data, totaled 354,122 cars, up 2.5 percent from the comparable week last year and was the second highest weekly total this year. Carload freight was up 3.5 percent in the East and 1.6 percent in the West.

Ten of 19 carload commodities registered gains from last year, with metallic ores up 14.4 percent, lumber and wood products up 11.0 percent and coal up 6.4 percent. Loadings of motor vehicles and equipment were down 11.1, while grain was off 6.7 percent and farm products other than grain declined 17.9 percent.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume.

When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 90 percent of Canadian rail traffic. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of U.S. intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

In 2003, American rail carloadings increased 0.1 percent. U.S. intermodal traffic rose 8.5 percent in December 2003, 12.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 2003, and 6.8 percent for 2003 as a whole.

Total U.S. intermodal traffic of 9.94 million trailers and containers marked a new record high for the time — the eighth time in nine years that has happened.

— Staff, wire reports 

Published in the January 2005 edition of The Cross-Tie.