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AAR Reports 2009 Carload Traffic at Lowest Level Since 1988

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported that 2009 saw total carload traffic on U.S. railroads at its lowest levels since at least 1988, when the AAR’s data series began. AAR’s January Rail Time Indicators report includes both monthly numbers for December and 2009 annual totals for freight railroad traffic.

January’s Rail Time Indicators report notes 2009 carload traffic was down 16.1 percent compared with 2008, and down 18.2 percent when compared with 2007.

For the month of December, rail carloads were down 4.1 percent compared with December of 2008 and down 17.6 percent compared with December of 2007, due mainly to declines in coal carloadings. However, had coal been excluded, rail carloads would have been 6.9 percent higher in December 2009 than in December 2008. While the report notes that traffic for every commodity category was down in 2009 compared with both 2008 and 2007, 12 of the 19 major commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw higher carloads in December 2009 than in December 2008.

U.S. rail intermodal traffic, which covers the movement of truck trailers and shipping containers by rail, posted slightly better year-end numbers with traffic down 14.1 percent compared with 2008, and down 17.7 percent compared to 2007. Last year saw the lowest intermodal traffic levels since 2002. U.S. intermodal traffic was up 2.5 percent from December 2008, though down 11.5 percent from December 2007. Unusually heavy early-season snow in much of the heavily-populated Northeastern U.S. negatively impacted consumer focused intermodal traffic in December 2009.

“Railroads are happy to have 2009 behind them,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John Gray. “Last year saw declines, most of them quite steep, in every major category of rail carload traffic as well as intermodal. However, we’re seeing signs that the economy is improving. We’re hopeful that 2010 will be a much better year for the economy and for railroads.”

The Rail Time Indicators report, available at, comprises monthly rail traffic data framed with other key economic indicators to show how freight rail ties into the broader U.S. economy. Both the monthly Rail Time Indicators report and a video summary are available on the AAR web site:

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