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May Freight Rail Traffic Makes Slight Gains

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reports that carloads in May 2011 increased 0.5 percent compared with the same month last year, for a total of 1,159,328 carloads. According to AAR’s monthly Rail Time Indicators report, intermodal traffic in May increased 7.5 percent for a total of 932,956 trailers and containers compared with May 2010. On a seasonally adjusted basis, carloads were flat and intermodal was up 0.8 percent over April 2011.

May saw the 18th straight month of intermodal gains, and this month’s weekly average of 233,239 is the second highest May average on record. The gains in intermodal can be attributed to several factors including growing international trade, better service, large investments in infrastructure and equipment by railroad companies, fuel costs, highway congestion and truck driver shortages, and the conversion of boxcar traffic. Looking further at the import and export commodities, “big box” retailers dominate intermodal container imports while recycled paper, scrap materials, and chemicals dominate container exports.

Railroads also continued to add jobs, with April seeing the addition of 935 freight rail employees, bringing the Class I freight railroad employee total to 156,777 employees nationwide.

“For the second month in a row, rail intermodal traffic was great, while carload traffic left something to be desired,” said AAR senior vice president John T. Gray. “Like other national indicators, rail traffic reflects a degree of uncertainty regarding the direction of the economy.  Railroads join everyone else in hoping current trends are just a bump in the road rather than a portent of things to come.”

Overall, eight of 20 commodity categories saw carload gains on U.S. railroads in May 2011 compared with May 2010. Traffic gains were led by  metallic ores, up 17.6 percent; grain, up 16.3 percent and chemicals, up 4.1 percent. Commodity groups with declines included: waste and non-ferrous scrap, down 16 percent; nonmetallic minerals, down 11.5 percent, and coal, down 1.8 percent.

The Rail Time Indicators report combines rail traffic data with more than 15 key economic indicators (such as consumer confidence, housing starts, and industrial production) in a non-technical snapshot of the U.S. economy. By assembling this information in a single place, and presenting rail traffic in the context of the broader economy, Rail Time Indicators provides a convenient, clear look at the key trends that can reveal where the economy — and, therefore, rail traffic — may be going.

For more information, visit www.aar.org.

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