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The latest monthly and weekly report from the AAR showed more signs of a sluggish economy.  The latest weekly data turned negative once again with carloads posting a -4.1% decline and intermodal posting a gain of 5.5%.   The 10 week moving average in intermodal moved slightly higher to 3.1%.   The AAR has details on the monthly and weekly report:

“The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported U.S. rail carloads originated in April 2012 totaled 1,113,105, down 64,335 carloads or 5.5 percent, compared with April 2011. Intermodal volume in April 2012 was 946,951 trailers and containers, up 32,505 units or up 3.6 percent, compared with April 2011. Detailed monthly data charts and tables will be available in the AAR’s Rail Time Indicators released online tomorrow.

Twelve of the 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw carload gains in April 2012 compared with April 2011, including petroleum and petroleum products, up 11,376 carloads, or 43.1 percent; motor vehicle and parts, up 11,360 carloads, or 21.1 percent; crushed stone, gravel, and sand, up 6,617 carloads, or 9.3 percent, and steel and other primary metal products, up 3,297 carloads, or 8.1 percent.

Commodities with carload declines in April were led by coal, down 85,719 carloads, or 16.6 percent compared with April 2011. This was coal’s biggest year-over-year percentage decline in rail traffic on record.  Other commodities with declines included grain, down 16,402 carloads, or 17.2 percent; iron and steel scrap, down 1,067 carloads, or 5.3 percent, and farm products excluding grain, down 448 carloads, or 12.9 percent. Carloads excluding coal and grain were up 37,786 carloads, or 6.7 percent.

“In 2011, U.S. freight railroads reinvested more than ever before in the national rail network, because they know America’s manufacturers, farmers, and resource producers need to move freight safely and cost effectively to continue to grow in the years ahead,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “Month-to-month trends may vary, but the long-term demand for rail service will certainly rise.”

Class I railroad employment in March was up by 1,295 employees from February 2012 to 160,523, its highest level since December 2008. Total Class I employment in March was up by 4,681 employees, or 3 percent, compared with March 2011. About two-thirds of the increase in rail employment in March was due to an increase in maintenance of way and structures employees.  These are signalmen, track gangs, and others who build and maintain track, bridges, signal systems, etc.

As of May 1, 2012, 307,957 freight cars were in storage, an increase of 8,633 from April 1, 2012, and equal to 20.1 percent of the North American fleet.  Total cars in storage have increased for five straight months.

AAR today also reported mixed weekly rail traffic for the week ending April 28, 2012, with U.S. railroads originating 283,080 carloads, down 4.1 percent compared with the same week last year. Intermodal volume for the week totaled 242,365 trailers and containers, up 5.5 percent compared with the same week last year.

Eleven of the 20 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2011, with petroleum products, up 51.9 percent; motor vehicles and equipment, up 29.1 percent, and crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 24.2. The groups showing a decrease in weekly traffic included grain, down 18 percent; coal, down 16.2 percent, and waste and nonferrous scrap, down 10.5 percent.

Weekly carload volume on Eastern railroads was down 0.8 percent compared with the same week last year. In the West, weekly carload volume was down 6.3 percent compared with the same week in 2011.

For the first 17 weeks of 2012, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 4,792,195 carloads, down 3.2 percent from the same point last year, and 3,875,396 trailers and containers, up 2.8 percent from last year.”

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