"May's rail traffic numbers continue to show mixed results," said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray. "Intermodal traffic has now risen for three straight months, but carloads in May 2010 were actually down a bit from April 2010. Several economic indicators this month, including unemployment, reinforce the fact that the economy still has a long way to go to full recovery."
The report notes that while the U.S. unemployment rate fell slightly in May to 9.7 percent from 9.9 percent in April, railroads hired 1,783 employees in April, the most recent month for railroad hiring data. The number of rail cars brought out of storage slowed for the first time in several months, with railroads putting just 747 cars back into service in May.
Of the 19 major commodity categories tracked by AAR, 18 posted gains compared with the same month last year. Coal, the single highest volume commodity carried by railroads, showed a notable increase last month, up 6.8 percent compared with 2009.
"Coal exports in the first quarter of 2010 are up 31 percent over the first quarter of 2009," added Gray. "That coupled with decreasing coal stockpiles has fueled notable increases this month in coal traffic. However, even after these gains, coal volumes are still significantly below where they were in 2008."
The Rail Time Indicators report, available at www.aar.org, comprises detailed monthly rail traffic data framed with other key economic indicators to show how freight rail ties into the broader U.S. economy. The monthly video summary now will be released on a quarterly basis, so check back in July for a video and widget summarizing rail traffic for the second quarter of 2010.