Rail Traffic Maintains Slow-but-Steady Recovery Pace

Monthly rail carloads for August 2010 were up 5.7% compared with the same period last year, but still down 11.6% compared with August 2008, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR). The weekly average of 294,862 carloads last month was the highest since November 2008.

Intermodal traffic in August was up 19.7% compared with the same month in 2009, but down slightly by 0.3% compared with August 2008.

Seasonally adjusted AAR data for August showed a month-to-month dip in carloads, down 1.6% from July 2010, but a slight increase in intermodal traffic, up 0.6% from the month before.

"It is very difficult right now for anyone to forecast the economy's path. We also know from experience that things can change very quickly," says John Gray, AAR’s senior vice president. "That said, there is little in last month’s rail traffic data that would indicate economic recovery has stalled. While a faster recovery path would be attractive to railroads and our customers, the data so far show a slow measured recovery is probably continuing."

On an unadjusted basis, August also saw carload gains in 16 of the 19 commodity groups tracked by AAR. Three categories in particular continue to see sharp gains: metallic ores up 60.8%; steel and other primary metal products up 40% and crushed stone, gravel and sand up 16.3% from the same period last year.

Railroads continue to bring employees back to work and cars out of storage. During the month of July, the most recent period for company employment data, railroads added 1,519 people to the employee rolls. U.S. Class I railroads have added 7400 employees in the last six months. Railroads brought 10,759 rail cars out of storage in August, with 348,712 cars, or roughly 22.7% of the North American railcar fleet, still in storage.

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