While the carload and intermodal traffic percentage increases in 2010 are the largest year-over-year increases since the AAR data series began in 1988, 2010 still saw the second lowest total annual carloads on record behind 2009. The combined increase in total annual carloads and intermodal trailers and containers is also roughly equivalent to approximately 20,000 additional trains moving in 2010, compared with 2009.
“Like the economy in general, rail traffic in 2010 recovered some lost ground, but not nearly all of it,” said AAR senior vice president John T. Gray. “That being said, monthly rail traffic increases were broad based, supporting the idea that economic recovery likewise is broad based.”
Carloads in December 2010 were up 9.4 percent over December 2009, while intermodal traffic for the month was up 13.3 percent compared with the same period in 2009. Seasonally adjusted data for December 2010 showed month-to-month gains, with carloads up 1.9 percent from November 2010 and intermodal traffic up 0.3 percent from the month before.
All of the 19 commodity categories tracked by AAR saw carload increases in 2010 compared with the prior year. However, all categories were still down compared with 2008. The categories with the greatest annual gains in 2010 were: metallic ores up 154,595 carloads or 89.2 percent compared with 2009; metals and metal products up 146,957 carloads or 44.9 percent, and chemicals up 131,127 carloads or 9.6 percent.
In 2010, coal accounted for 45.4 percent of all U.S. carload traffic, down from the all-time high of 48.2 percent in 2009. Chemicals came in a distant second, representing 10.1 percent of all carloads, followed by grain at 7.8 percent. Containers led the U.S. intermodal traffic segment in 2010, with a record high of 84.9 percent of intermodal traffic, up from 83.4 percent in 2009.
Railroads continued to bring employees back to work and cars out of storage last year. As of Jan. 1, 2011, railroads had 316,271 cars in storage, representing roughly 20.8 percent of the North American railcar fleet. That means railroads last year brought 132,284 cars out of storage. As of November 2010, the most recent month for rail employment data, the nation’s major Class I railroads employed 155,042 people, up nearly 8000 employees from November 2009.
The Rail Time Indicators report, available at www.aar.org, comprises monthly rail traffic data framed with other key economic indicators to show how freight rail is connected to the broader U.S. economy.