Econintersect: The AAR (Association of American Railroads) has reported rail freight traffic for the month of December, and the numbers were stronger than expected. Overall, rail traffic was up 7.3% above December 2009. This puts December 2010 approximately midway between between the last two Decembers (2008 and 2009). Follow up:
Follow up:Some summary discussion from the AAR December report:
Way better than 2009, but still lots of room to grow. That sentiment sums up U.S. rail traffic in 2010. Total carloads for the year were 14.8 million, up 7.3% over the 13.8 million in 2009. Total intermodal volume in 2010 was 11.3 million trailers and containers, up 14.2% over 2009’s 9.9 million units.
All 19 of the commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw carload increases on U.S. railroads in 2010 compared with 2009, indicating a broad (albeit slow) recovery across industry sectors. On the other hand, all 19 commodity categories for U.S. railroads were still lower in 2010 than they were in 2008. To repeat, there’s a long way to go.
In 2010, the biggest year-over-year gains were in metallic ores (up 154,595 carloads, or 89.2%); primary metal products (up 146,957 carloads, or 44.9%); and chemicals (up 131,127 carloads, or 9.6%).
In 2010, coal accounted for 45.4% of non-intermodal U.S. carloads, down from 48.2% in 2009 (which was a record high) but far ahead of second place chemicals (10.1% of 2010 carloads) and third place grain (7.8%). Containers accounted for 84.9% of U.S. rail intermodal movements in 2010, a record high and up from 42.0% in 1989, 68.7% in 2000, and 83.4% in 2009.
U.S. rail carloads in Q4 2010 were up 7.6% over Q4 2009; intermodal traffic was up 12.9% in Q4 2010 over Q4 2009.
The pattern of increases (intermodal traffic being greater than carload traffic) is one that has continued for all of the 18 month recovery. This indicates that commercial activity is growing faster for finished goods which are transported intermodally (containers and trailers) than they are for carloads of raw materials.
This indicates that economic recovery is taking place faster in finished goods exchange which would be the case if merchatile growth was the impetus, fed by imports increasing faster than domestic production and exports. This is exactly the pattern observed in the GDP numbers.
Source: PDF report available on request from the Association of American Railroads.
Editor's note: Analysis of the AAR data is available at the GEI Analysis Blog.