In March, intermodal traffic rose by 0.5 percent, year over year, to 933,208 containers, while the number of carloads declined by 0.5 percent to 1.117 million when compared to March 2012, according to the Association of American Railroads.
Intermodal finished the month with the smallest year-over-year gain in nearly a year and a half, while the carload decrease came in as the smallest decrease since January 2012.
The mixed results didn’t inspire much confidence, but also didn’t signal impending disaster.
“U.S. rail traffic continues to mirror the overall economy: not great, not terrible, anticipating a better future,” AAR senior vice president, John T. Gray, said in a statement. “Petroleum and petroleum products continues to lead traffic gains, while coal and grain have seen better days.”
Carload activity in March was propelled by petroleum products, which were up by 54.3 percent. Crushed stone and gravel increased by 11.9 percent, and automotive parts rose by 6.1 percent. Grain fell by 20.1 percent last month, metallic ores declined by 13.2 percent, and coal dropped by 2 percent.
Year to date, the volume on U.S. railroads fell by 3 percent, but intermodal activity rose by 5.3 percent. Total volume showed a 0.7 percent increase.
Canada and Mexico rail traffic painted a somewhat clear picture in the first few months of the year. Carloads in Canada rose by 2.2 percent, compared to the same period in 2012, and intermodal units rose by 4.4 percent. Mexican carload traffic rose by 8.4 percent, and intermodal inched up by 0.9 percent. - Jon Ross