The Association of American Railroads (AAR) latest traffic report paints a fairly bright, yet cautious, picture. Carload freight volume is above 2009 levels for the sixth straight week over last year, and intermodal freight volume (shipping containers and semi trailers loaded on train cars) is above 2009 levels for the twelfth straight week. Total freight volume for the week ending April 3, 2010 was estimated at 31.3 billion ton-miles. This represents an 11% increase over the same week in 2009, but still represents a decrease of 9.3% when compared to the same week in 2008.
The comparison may be slightly skewed due to the Good Friday holiday which did not occur during the week ending April 3 in 2008 or 2009 but did fall during that week this year.
Commodity groups which showed the greatest gains in loading volume year on year included metallic ores, metals, motor vehicles, grain, primary forest products, lumber and chemicals. Loadings of paper and pulp declined by 5.1 percent.
The AAR traffic report gives the following composite view of 2010 economic activity thus far: "For the first 13 weeks of 2010, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 3,590,628 carloads, up 2.2 percent from 2009, but down 14.7 percent from 2008; 2,627,231 trailers or containers, up 8.4 percent from 2009, but down 8.5 percent from 2008, and total volume of an estimated 390.1 billion ton-miles, up 3.1 percent from 2009 but down 11.8 percent from 2008."
It is easy to surmise from the above synopsis that although more freight is being moved around than last year, we haven't even begun to claw back to the freight volumes of 2008. So, we've risen from the bottom of the pit, but we can't see up over the edge yet. I predict that, all things given, this current trend will continue straight through to the end of this year. I expect that freight numbers shall remain above 2009 levels, but I see nothing which indicates a return to the rail freight volumes of 2008.