Intermodal Up, Carloads Down in January

WASHINGTON — U.S. intermodal rail traffic rose 11.2 percent (87,164 units) while U.S. rail carload traffic fell 0.1 percent (2,020 carloads) in January 2003 compared to January 2002, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported today.

Intermodal — the movement of trailers or containers on rail cars — accounts for approximately 20 percent of U.S. Class I rail revenue.  Over the past 10 years, it has been the fastest-growing major segment of the U.S. freight rail industry and now plays a critical role in making supply chains far more efficient for retailers and other firms and industries.  Intermodal is expected to soon surpass coal as the top rail revenue source.

On the carload side, commodities with significant gains in January 2003 included metallic ores (up 18,930 carloads, or 38.5 percent), chemicals (up 7,898 carloads, or 5.8 percent), steel and other metal products (up 7,872 carloads, or 14.3 percent), and coke (up 3,432 carloads, or 19.7 percent).  All told, 10 of the 19 commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw gains in carloadings in January 2003 compared with January 2002.  Commodities with carload declines in January 2003 included coal (down 43,625 carloads, or 6.5 percent) and grain (down 5,044 carloads, or 4.5 percent).

“Excluding coal, U.S. rail carload traffic was up 4.7 percent, or 41,605 carloads, in January 2003 compared with January 2002,” noted AAR Vice President Craig F. Rockey.  “On a year-over-year monthly basis, U.S. rail coal volumes have now fallen for 13 consecutive months.  These declines reflect continued doldrums in export coal markets, utility drawdowns of coal stockpiles, and other factors.”

Canadian intermodal traffic in January 2003 was up 17.6 percent (28,441 units) compared with January 2002, while Canadian carload traffic was down 1.0 percent (3,075 carloads).  Grain traffic on Canadian carriers was down 17.4 percent (6,928 carloads), and carloads of grain mill products were down 17.7 percent (1,637 carloads).  Chemical traffic in Canada in January was up 7.4 percent (5,139 carloads), while carloads of metallic ores were up 12.2 percent (980 carloads)

“In recent years, U.S. and Canadian railroads have spent billions of dollars on intermodal-related investments in infrastructure and equipment, including new or expanded intermodal terminals, freight cars, state-of-the-art locomotives, and added track capacity and advanced signaling systems to accommodate faster, more frequent intermodal trains,” noted Rockey.  “The result is responsive, cost-effective, environmentally-friendly service that helps meet the increasingly demanding freight transportation needs of our nation.”

Carloads originated on Transportación Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM), a major Mexican railroad, were up 21.1 percent (7,362 carloads) in January 2003, while intermodal originations were up 47.2 percent (5,274 trailers and containers).

For just the week ended February 1, the AAR reported the following totals for U.S. railroads: 316,951 carloads, down 0.6 percent from the corresponding week in 2002, with loadings down 1.1 percent in the East and down 0.1 percent in the West; intermodal volume of 186,285 trailers and containers, up 13.5 percent; and total volume of an estimated 28.4 billion ton-miles, down 0.7 percent from the equivalent week last year.

For Canadian railroads during the week ended February 1, the AAR reported volume of 62,930 carloads, up 3.5 percent from last year; and 40,511 trailers and containers, up 20.6 percent from the corresponding week in 2002.

Combined cumulative volume for the first five weeks of 2003 on 15 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 1,843,095 carloads, down 0.3 percent (5,095 carloads) from last year; and 1,058,334 trailers and containers, up 12.3 percent (115,605 trailers and containers) from 2002’s first five weeks.

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