Intermodal gains offset commodity losses

As 2005 drew to a close, rail traffic declined 0.1% year over year in Week 50, according to financial services firm Morgan Stanley. A 2.6% rise in intermodal traffic masked some of the 1.9% decline in commodities.

Both the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and the Union Pacific (UP) railroads had sequential improvements in coal traffic for the week. BNSF increased coal traffic by 11% over the prior week and UP reported coal volumes up 18% from Week 49. Weather reportedly affected both railroads' performance.

Among the individual railroads, BNSF reported its largest percentage gain in motor vehicles (19.7%). Intermodal was up 5.6% for the week. Year to date, BNSF showed overall volumes up 5.2%, with intermodal increasing 8.9%. Canadian National (CN) reported a substantial drop in grain volumes for the week (down 20.8%), but it managed to post a year-to-date volume increase of 5.4% overall. Intermodal shipments on the CN were up 4.2% year to date. The troubled CSX posted a 4.3% decline in overall volumes in Week 50. Intermodal freight was off 4.5% year to date. Among major commodities, only coal posted gains for the 50-week period, up 6.4%.

Falling grain volumes moderated Kansas City Southern's (KCS) growth for the week, pegging it at 10.3%. Strongest gains in the week were in chemicals, coal and intermodal, each rising more than 20%. Year-to-date figures showed KCS ahead by only 1.7% overall with losses of 6% in intermodal, 7.2% in grain and 3% in chemicals.

Norfolk Southern (NS) reported a 4.1% year-to-date rise in traffic, led by intermodal, which was up 8.9%. TFM, the Mexican rail line, had a 30.5% drop in intermodal for the week but remained in positive numbers year to date with a 2% rise. Other commodities were tracking on the negative side for the year, leading to an overall zero-growth in year-to-date volumes.

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