AAR: Rail Freight Traffic Down in March

WASHINGTON — Freight traffic on U.S. railroads was down again during March, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported April 2.

U.S. railroads originated 1,082,514 carloads of freight in March 2009, down 17.3 percent (226,279 carloads) from March 2008. U.S. intermodal rail traffic, which consists of trailers and containers on flat cars and is not included in carload figures, totaled 729,033 units in March 2009, down 14.9 percent (127,371 trailers and containers) compared to March 2008.

For the first three months of 2009, total U.S. rail carloadings were down 16.3 percent (636,192 carloads) to 3,259,097 carloads, while intermodal traffic was down 15.5 percent (411,802 units) to 2,243,491 trailers and containers. Total volume was estimated as 345.8 billion ton-miles, down 15.2 percent from a year ago.

Of the 19 major commodity categories tracked by the AAR, 18 saw carload declines in March. (The catch-all “all other” category was the only one to show an increase in March.)

In March, carloads of coal were down 6.7 percent (39,159 carloads); carloads of motor vehicles and equipment were down 41.4 percent (30,648 carloads); carloads of metals and metal products were down 56.2 percent (30,001 carloads); and carloads of chemicals were down 20.3 percent (25,432 carloads).

“A blizzard in the Wyoming coal fields, flooding in the Midwest, and other weather-related problems added a ‘kick them when they’re down’ element to the month, dropping already-depressed rail traffic levels even further in March,” noted AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray.

For the first quarter of 2009, U.S. rail carloadings of coal were down 4.2 percent (73,136 carloads) to 1,649,373 carloads. Other commodities fared much worse, including motor vehicles and equipment (down 51.8 percent, or 116,887 carloads), metals and metal products (down 52.1 percent, or 82,323 carloads), and grain (down 22.4 percent, or 68,286 carloads).

Canadian rail carload traffic in March 2009 was down 21.7 percent (66,816 carloads) to 241,681 carloads. Canadian intermodal traffic in March 2009 was down 13.3 percent (24,116 units) from March 2008 to 157,782 trailers and containers.

For the first quarter of 2009, Canadian rail carloadings were down 19.5 percent (179,651 carloads) to 741,877 carloads; Canadian intermodal traffic for the quarter was down 12.1 percent (67,805 units) to 490,410 trailers and containers.

For just the week ended March 28, the AAR reported the following totals for U.S. railroads: 252,065 carloads, down 24.4 percent from the corresponding week in 2008; intermodal volume of 188,351 trailers and containers, down 15.4 percent; and total volume of an estimated 26.6 billion ton-miles, down 23.8 percent from the equivalent week last year.

For Canadian railroads during the week ended March 28, the AAR reported volume of 60,109 carloads, down 24.7 percent from last year; and 41,444 trailers and containers, down 16.3 percent from the corresponding week in 2008.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 12 weeks of 2009 on 12 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads was 4,000,974 carloads, down 16.9 percent (815,843 carloads) from last year; and 2,733,901 trailers and containers, down 14.9 percent (479,607 trailers and containers) from 2008’s first 12 weeks.