Once again rail traffic was "mixed". This was because of the sharp decline in coal traffic (mild winter, low natural gas prices), and also for grains. Other commodities were up, such as building related commodities such as lumber and crushed stone, gravel, sand. From the Association of American Railroads (AAR): Reports Mixed Rail Traffic for April
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) 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.
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. Click on graph for larger image.
This graph shows U.S. average weekly rail carloads (NSA).
Once again, coal was the main reason for the decline in total carloads. Coal carloads were down 16.6% (85,719 carloads) in April 2012, their biggest year-over-year percentage decline on record. A warm winter, low natural gas prices that make gas-based electricity generation more competitive vis-à-vis coal-based generation, and environmental pressures are all reducing U.S. coal consumption, and thus rail coal carloads.
Meanwhile, U.S. rail grain carloads were down 17.2% (16,402 carloads) in April 2012 from April 2011, their 10th straight significant decline. Grain carloads are hurting largely because U.S. grain exports are down.The second graph is just for coal and shows the sharp decline this year.
Just when you thought coal couldn't get worse, it did. U.S. coal carloads fell 16.6% (85,719 carloads) in April 2012 from April 2011, the biggest monthly decline on record. (Our data begin in 1988.) Average U.S. coal carloads of 107,379 in April 2012 were the lowest of any month since July 1993. ...
Again this month, rail traffic is more encouraging if you forget about coal and grain. Excluding coal, U.S. rail carloads were up 3.2% (21,384 carloads) in April 2012 over April 2011.The third graph is for intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers):
Graphs reprinted with permission.
Intermodal traffic is now close to the peak year of 2006.
U.S. intermodal traffic - containers and trailers on railroad flat cars - was up 3.6% (32,505 units) in April 2012 over April 2011 to 946,951 units, its 29th straight year-over-year monthly increase. The average in April 2012 was 236,738 intermodal units per week, the second highest average of any April in history (just behind April 2006's 237,062) and the 13th highest of any month in history. (Most of the top months are in the fall, when intermodal tends to peak.)