Weekly US intermodal volumes march upward

More news: KCS says Mexico protests impacting fourth-quarter revenue; Norfolk Southern announces leadership changes

U.S. intermodal traffic on a weekly basis exceeded the 300,000-unit mark this week amid continued brisk import activity.

Intermodal volumes for the week ending Saturday were 301,129 containers and trailers, which is 11.5% higher than the same week a year ago, according to data from the Association of American Railroads.

West Coast import activity is back near year-to-date highs, a FreightWaves Passport Research note said Wednesday. Indeed, BNSF’s (NYSE: BRK) intermodal volumes were up 13.1% year-over-year, while Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) intermodal volumes were 2.1% higher for the same period, according to the research note. 

“While in a ‘normal’ year we would expect a soft December for U.S. port and intermodal volumes, so far this year activity has held up, driven by distorted consumer spending patterns, retail restocking and congestion up and down the supply chain that has stymied shippers’ efforts to move freight quickly,” said FreightWaves Passport Research Associate Tony Mulvey.

Meanwhile, U.S. carloads continued to be below year-ago levels. U.S. weekly carloads slipped 7.2% to 233,478.

Combined U.S. carload and intermodal volumes totaled 534,607 last week, up 2.5% from a year ago.

On a year-to-date basis, U.S. rail volumes were 8.5% lower to 22.3 million carloads and intermodal units.

U.S. rail carloads (blue: RTOTC.USA), intermodal trailers (orange: RTOIT.CLASSI) and containers (green: RTOIC.CLASSI) over the past year. (FreightWaves SONAR)

Strike in Mexico expected to dent fourth-quarter revenue: KCS

The teachers union strike in Mexico has affected Kansas City Southern’s (NYSE: KSU) volumes and revenue in the fourth quarter, an executive said recently at an investor conference.

The protests blocking Kansas City Southern’s (KCS) Caltzontzin district have impacted volumes quarter-to-date by 3% and revenue by 6% compared to a year ago, said KCS Chief Financial Officer Mike Upchurch at the Stephens investor conference on Nov. 17. If the protests hadn’t disrupted KCS’ operations between the Port of Lazaro to inland, then volumes would likely be up by about 2% and revenue would be down by only 2%, Upchurch said.

“It’s an unfortunate incident. Nothing against Kansas City Southern. This is a dispute with the teachers, the state and the federal government,” Upchurch said, noting that the protest has shut off about 5% of KCS’ business at the Port of Lazaro. KCS has been attempting to end the protest, which began around Oct. 2, with various levels of government, customers, trade associations and with labor unions, he said. 

Upchurch provided other updates on KCS’ operations, including plans to extend sidings to allow longer trains to run and plans to increase yard capacity to improve velocity.

He also said plans to expand capacity at the international gateway bridge between Mexico and the U.S. wouldn’t likely occur until the 2022-2023 time frame. KCS had received a permit to construct a second span across the international gateway.

KCS hopes the second span will “give us a tremendous amount of flexibility at the border,” Upchurch said. Current train velocity is roughly 1.5 mph at the bridge, and KCS is seeking ways to make trains there more efficient, he said.

Norfolk Southern makes leadership changes

Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC) said Kathleen Smith will succeed Robert Martinez as vice president of business development and real estate. Martinez is retiring from the company.

John Hatfield will also become vice president of corporate communications.

Smith began working at Norfolk Southern (NS) as a management trainee in 1995 and held roles of increasing responsibility in NS’ marketing division. She was most recently group vice president for chemicals in the industrial products group, and she has also served as group vice president of automotive in the intermodal/automotive group. 

“Kathleen has proven to be a smart and capable leader, helping her teams provide quality customer service and achieve company goals for growth,” said NS President and CEO Jim Squires. “In her new role, Smith will help lead our ongoing transformation to become a more agile and resilient company.”

Smith will begin her new role on Tuesday, which is also when Martinez retires. 

“During more than 23 years with Norfolk Southern, Rob Martínez played an integral role in some of the company’s largest and most strategic business initiatives,” said Squires. “Rob is recognized across the industry for his integrity and diplomacy. We are a stronger and more competitive railroad through his efforts, and he will be missed.”

Meanwhile, Hatfield will oversee the Norfolk Southern Foundation. He served most recently as vice president of communications and community affairs for energy provider Arizona Public Service. He has more than 30 years of experience in public and community relations. He will start on Jan. 1.

“John is a seasoned executive and experienced communication professional,” Squires said. “As we move through a time of tremendous change for our company, it’s essential for us to engage effectively with our stakeholders. We are pleased to add John to our team.”  

Subscribe to FreightWaves’ e-newsletters and get the latest insights on freight right in your inbox.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

Related articles:

Ford Mexico CEO asks Mexican government to quell railroad blockades

Rail blockade ends in Chihuahua, Mexico

Norfolk Southern strives to ramp up efficiency

Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.