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More but slower freight hits the rails

With all but the final week of 2004 reported, North American railroads saw a 5.6% increase in traffic volumes, but service worsened for the fourth quarter.

Average speed across the North American rail network declined 5.3% for the 12 weeks of the fourth quarter reported to date. Terminal dwell times also worsened by 4.9% in the fourth quarter.

Throughout 2004, both Burlington Northern (BN) and Norfolk Southern (NS) railroads reported the industry's best volume growth. BN volumes grew 11.2% and NS volume was up 10.7%.

By contrast, Union Pacific (UP) registered its third weekly record low for system-wide train speed, down by 13.2% in week 51. The four-week trend was a decline of 11.5% when compared with the same period in 2003. This, and the increased terminal dwell times (up 19.3% for the week), indicate congestion on the UP is getting worse rather than better, says equity research firm Morgan Stanley.

Total intermodal volumes on North American railroads registered a 10.2% increase year to date. At the Canadian National (CN) railroad, grain was the top commodity, up 8.1% year to date. Overall, though, CN has seen a decline of 5.2% in intermodal traffic year to date.

Coal and chemicals lead volume increases at the Canadian Pacific, up 10.4% and 10.1%, respectively, year to date.

CSX, which suffered some system problems in 2004 as a result of the multiple hurricanes that hit the U.S. Southeast, saw only small increases in volumes in most commodities. Intermodal increased 17.6% on the Kansas City Southern railroad, followed by grain and chemicals which increased 9.8% and 9.1%, respectively year to date.

Norfolk Southern increased chemical volumes 7.6% year to date, and saw a 16.8% rise in intermodal traffic during the same period.

The Mexican railroad TFM hauled 17.2% more chemicals and 11.5% more metals year to date.

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