AAR: Rail Traffic Declines Continue to Slow in August

WASHINGTON — The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported that while U.S. freight rail carloads declined in August, down 16.4 percent (at 1,116,182 carloads) compared with the same month last year, the percentage decline for the month was the lowest since February.

In the Rail Time Indicators Report, AAR released monthly traffic data framed with other key economic indicators to show how freight rail ties into the broader the U.S. economy.

Carload data for certain commodity groups had notable traffic changes in August. Carloads of chemicals – which are used as a raw material in virtually all types of manufacturing – were up 14 percent (at 134,601 carloads) from its lowest point this year in March. This increase in carloads of chemicals is in line with the August Purchasing Managers Index, up 4 percent from the month before.

The autos and auto parts commodity group saw a significant monthly boost – likely the result of the federal “Cash for Clunkers” program – up 40 percent (at 44,272 carloads) in August from the month before.

The more consumer-driven intermodal traffic was down 16.7 percent compared with August 2008. However, the average weekly intermodal count was 196,066 trailers – the highest since January 2009.

“August was another month where we are seeing traffic data moving in the right direction – but we are still in a wait-and-see mode,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John Gray. “Railroads are beginning to bring cars out of storage – a promising sign there is growing demand to move more things by rail. However, to date, the improvements remain too small to judge whether they are the result of seasonal factors or indicators of an emerging recovery.”