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March Freight Rail Traffic Increases As Economy Continues to Show Signs of Recovery

April 13, 2011
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported monthly rail carloads in March 2011 increased 3.4 percent compared with the same month last year, for a total of 1,493,553 carloads. According to AAR’s monthly Rail Time Indicators report, intermodal traffic in March increased 8.5 percent for a total of 1,111,301 trailers and containers compared with March 2010. On a seasonally adjusted basis, carloads were up 2 percent and intermodal was up 0.5 percent over February 2011.

“As the economy steadily improves, rail traffic is continuing to make gains as well,” said AAR senior vice president John Gray. “And we are seeing intermodal traffic make larger gains with the containerization trend continuing. Containers accounted for 85 percent of intermodal traffic in the first quarter of this year.”

March also saw the addition of 1198 employees, bringing the total number of Class I rail employees to 154,502 nationwide. As of April 1, 2011, 283,649 freight cars, or 18.7 percent of the fleet, remain in storage. This represents a decrease of 22,667 cars from March 1, 2011.

March 2011’s carload traffic percentage increase is the lowest of any month since early 2010 due, in part, to strengthening rail traffic volumes in the 2010 comparison month. Despite that, March 2011 marks the thirteenth straight month for carload and the sixteenth straight month for intermodal traffic increases on a year-over-year basis, showing the continued gradual upward trend in rail traffic.

Overall, 15 of 20 commodity categories saw carload gains on U.S. railroads in March 2011 compared with March 2010. Traffic gains were led by metallic ores, up 45.8 percent; motor vehicles and parts, up 17.6 percent; pulp and paper products, up 16.2 percent, and petroleum and petroleum/coal products, up 14.5 percent. Of the five commodity categories reporting declines for the month only two saw significant decreases: primary forest products, down 15.4 percent, and waste and nonferrous scrap, down 11.7 percent.

Coal carloads continue to suffer from reduced electricity demand, with U.S. railroads originating 673,977 carloads in March 2011, up 0.1 percent over March 2010. In March 2011, U.S. railroads originated a total of 158,240 carloads of chemicals, up 10.2 percent over March 2010, and averaged 31,648 carloads per week. This represents the highest weekly average for chemical carloads for any month in history, likely due to increasing volumes of ethanol shipped largely by rail.

For more information visit www.aar.org.