The Association of American Railroads (AAR; Washington) reports that 2009 U.S. rail carloadings of chemicals, a key indicator of underlying demand, fell 9.6% from 2008 levels and 12.2% from 2007. Total chemical carload traffic on U.S. railroads fell to its lowest level since 1993, according to AAR data. Canadian rail carloadings of chemicals were hit even harder, with declines of 17.8% from 2008 levels and 20.7% from 2007. (Total carload traffic on U.S. railroads was at its lowest levels since at least 1988, when AAR's data series began.) The info comes from AAR's January 2010 Rail Time Indicators Report available here.
One chart in the report, plotting average weekly U.S. rail carloads from 2006 through 2009, is worth a close look (below). Shipment patterns over the course of 2006, 2007, and 2009 are quite similar (although the volume level in each year is obviously different). The 2008 line is jarring, showing a 30% demand swoon in the second half of the year. Demand returned to a familiar rhythm in January 2009, but so far it's an unhappy tune playing out 12%-15% below its 2007 peak.