The ups and downs of a recovering recession have meant
uncertainty at times during the first half of 2012, but the
freight transportation industry nevertheless is moving along,
helped in no small measure by shipments from the metals
And in a symbiosis of sorts, the metals sector gets a boost
when freight transportation thrivesthe materials to build
new containers, truck cabs, rail cars and other modes of
transportation come from steel, aluminum and other metal
producers, who benefit when orders stream in for large, durable
Primary metals, ores, finished products and ferrous and
nonferrous scrap all saw relatively healthy tonnages moving
within the United States in the first two quarters of 2012, the
bulk of them carried by truck and rail. And exports saw a
number of shipments leave the United States from ports on the
East, West and Gulf coasts. By June, those industries were
still making headway from capacity losses they suffered during
the Great Recession, although their numbers were still well
below pre-recession levels.
Year to date, tonnage moved by truck was up 3.8 percent
compared with the same period last year, according to American
Trucking Associations (ATA) statistics. However, the ATAs
advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index
decreased 1.1 percent in
Aprilthe most recent month for which figures were
availableafter increasing 0.6 percent in March.
While Aprils decrease was a little disappointing,
the March gain turned out to be stronger than originally
thought, ATA chief economist Bob Costello said. The
ups and downs so far this year are similar to other economic
The Association of American Railroads also reported mixed
figures, with U.S. railroads originating 291,381 carloads in
the week ended May 26, up 1.3 percent from 287,693 in the same
period last year, but the year-to-date total of nearly 5.92
million carloads was 3.1 percent below more than 6.11 million a
year earlier, although the shipment of 4.84 million trailers
and containers was up 2.9 percent from 4.7 million last year.
But year-to-date shipments of metals and metal products were up
9.1 percent to 232,169 carloads from 212,789 a year earlier;
metallic ores rose 10.1 percent to 141,369 carloads from
128,440; and iron and steel scrap inched up 1.4 percent to
103,095 carloads from 101,685.
Including Canada and Mexico, North American railroads
originated 373,165 carloads in the week ended May 26, down 1
percent from 377,059 in the same period last year, and the
year-to-date total of 7.82 million carloads was 1.8 percent
below 7.96 million a year earlier, although shipments of metals
and metal products were up 6.1 percent to 315,340 carloads from
297,175 a year earlier; metallic ores rose 4.6 percent to
438,402 carloads from 419,212; and iron and steel scrap was up
2.8 percent to 131,251 carloads from 127,655.
After several lean years, North American demand for rail
freight cars is expected to boom in 2012 and continue on that
course for the next few years, according to rail car
manufacturers, railroads and major shippers. At the same time,
design advances will increase the amount of steel used in each
rail car, especially in new high-pressure tank cars.
The industry expects to deliver around 50,000 new rail cars
this year and about 60,000 in 2013, according to an industry
source who is a member of the North American Freight Car
Association, noting that the projected new builds could remain
above the 60,000 level through 2015. The industry averaged
53,000 new cars annually from 1995 through 2009.
A new freight car contains 18 to 20 tons of
steelstructural, sheet, plate and barso the steel
requirements in an average year would be around 1 million tons.
Annual aluminum tonnage consumption would total about 180,000
tons, with the only major demand for aluminum being for coal
The projected breakout of car types each year for the
post-2013 period is about 20,000 covered hoppers (for grain,
sand and plastic pellets), 13,000 tank cars, 12,000 doublestack
container cars, 8,000 gondolas (primarily for coal and a
smaller number for scrap and steel), 7,000 open-top hoppers
(coal and aggregates), 3,000 conventional flat cars (steel,
automotive and lumber) and 2,500 box cars.
On the water, concerns about the eurozone crisis and a
slowing of Chinas economy dont seem to be hampering
the maritime flow of North American bulk cargoes, such as iron
ore and coal, as the first half of 2012 came to a close. Ports
across North America were reporting strong shipments of bulk
cargoes, and they anticipate a continuation in the second half
of the year, according to the Cleveland-based Lake
Carriers Association, which represents 17 American
companies that operate 55 U.S.-flag vessels on the Great
Iron ore is the backbone of the Great Lakes trade, but U.S.
and Canadian vessels also haul millions of tons of bulk coal
and limestone on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system
each year. About 80 percent of the iron ore in global maritime
commerce originates in Brazil, Australia or Africa and is
delivered to steel mills in China, Japan and Europe. The United
States and Canada are self-sufficient in iron ore and move the
commodity on a vast inland waterway system.