The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported that in February 2010, U.S. freight railroads saw a 1.5 percent decline in carloads compared with the same month last year and a decline of 15.6 percent compared with the same month in 2008.

According to the March AAR Rail Time Indicators Report, 14 of the 19 major commodity categories tracked by AAR saw higher carloads last month compared with the same month last year. ‘Carloads of coal, the single highest volume commodity carried by rail, were down 9.9 percent in February 2010 over February 2009.’ Excluding coal, U.S. rail carloads in February 2010 were up 7.2 percent over February 2009.

U.S. rail intermodal traffic, which covers the movement of truck trailers and shipping containers by rail, was up 10.1 percent in February compared with the same month last year, but down 10.6 percent for the same month in 2008.

“Rail traffic trends over the past few months, especially when you take out coal, are consistent with a slowly recovering economy,” said John Gray, AAR’s Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics. “Other economic indicators taken as a whole seem to be saying the same thing.’ Is a sustained recovery a sure thing?’ No, not yet, but prospects are certainly much brighter now than they were four or five months ago.”

Record snowfalls on the East Coast last month made rail operations difficult and affected many rail customers’ ability to originate or receive loads. The last week of February was the highest-volume week for U.S. rail carloads since December of 2008 - likely at least partly the result of “catch up” traffic following the storms.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, U.S. rail carloads in February fell 0.1 percent compared with January 2010, while seasonally-adjusted U.S. intermodal traffic was down 3.6 percent in February compared to the prior month.

“Adjusting for seasonal issues that cause peaks or valleys in traffic - such as end of year holidays and the fall grain harvest - allows us to see more clearly the strength or weakness of the underlying demand for rail traffic,” Gray noted. ‘“Over the past six months, the upward trend in seasonally adjusted rail traffic indicates an increase in underlying demand.”