"The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported gains in 2011 rail traffic compared with last year, with U.S. railroads originating 15.2 million carloads, up 2.2 percent over 2010 and up 9.7 percent over 2009. Total U.S. rail intermodal volume in 2011 was 11.9 million trailers and containers, up 5.4 percent over 2010 and up 20.4 percent over 2009.

In 2011, 14 of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by AAR saw increases on U.S. railroads compared with 2010 indicating a broad recovery across industry sectors. The largest gains were: metallic ores, up 20.5 percent or 67,631 carloads; primary metal products, up 12 percent or 56,988 carloads; and petroleum products, up 11.1 percent or 36,811 carloads. 

“A good beginning, some uncertainness in the middle, and then a good ending—that describes U.S. rail traffic in 2011,” remarked John Gray, AAR’s Senior Vice President for Policy and Economics. “We continue to see hopeful economic signs, as the industry prepares for 2012.”

AAR also announced gains in December 2011 rail traffic, with U.S. railroads originating 1,134,580 carloads, up 7.3 percent over December 2010, which is the largest year-over-year monthly increase since January 2011. U.S. rail intermodal originations totaled 873,390 containers and trailers, up 9.4 percent over December 2010. This is the second-highest monthly intermodal average for any December in history. During December 2011, 16 of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw increases compared with December 2010."

MP: The materials moving daily around the country by rail are the "raw ingredients" (coal, grains, chemicals, lumber, minerals, paper, iron, steel, etc.) of American industry that are being delivered to a company, factory or plant somewhere  in the U.S. for the next stage of processing.  The annual gains in the volume of those raw materials being shipped by rail last year and the ongoing monthly gains in rail traffic, reflect the gradual recovery taking place in the U.S. economy, especially in the manufacturing sector.  Increases in orders for the inputs delivered by rail in 2011 will translate into increases in final output (GDP) this year, which could also contribute to greater job growth in 2012. 

Related: NY Times article by Floyd Norris, "Manufacturing Is Surprising Bright Spot in U.S. Economy."