Print this page
Wednesday, September 06, 2017

AAR: Historic month for U.S. rail intermodal

Written by 
John Gray, Senior Vice President – Policy and Economics for the Association of American Railroads. John Gray, Senior Vice President – Policy and Economics for the Association of American Railroads.

Total U.S. rail traffic was 534,140 carloads and intermodal units for the week ending Sept. 2, down 0.9% from the same week a year ago.

Shipments totaled 257,077 carloads, down 5.9%, while intermodal volume was 277,063 containers and trailers, up 4.2% on-year, according to the Association of American Railroads.

Three of the 10 carload commodity groups tracked by AAR posted an increase: coal, 4.4%; nonmetallic minerals, 2.6%, and metallic ores and metals, 4%.

Decreases were led by petroleum, 29.2%; grain, 25.6%, and chemicals, 21.3%.

North American rail volume for the week on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 355,608 carloads, down 1.9% on-year, and 358,874 intermodal units, up 5.2%. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 714,482 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.5%. Volume for the first 35 weeks of 2017 was 24,389,083 carloads and intermodal units, up 5.3% compared with 2016.

Canadian railroads reported 82,422 carloads for the week, up 9.5%, and 69,939 intermodal units, up 10%. For the first 35 weeks of 2017, cumulative volume of 5,024,458 carloads, containers and trailers gained 11.5%.

Mexican railroads reported 16,109 carloads for the week, up 14.6% compared with the year-ago week, and 11,872 intermodal units, down 0.4%. Cumulative volume for the first 35 weeks of 2017 was 950,420 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 0.5%.

The AAR said August was the best month in history for intermodal traffic.

U.S. railroads originated 1,343,405 carloads, off by 0.3%, but 1,401,081 containers and trailers, ahead by 5.6%. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations were 2,744,486 units, up 2.6%.

For the month, seven of the 20 carload commodity categories saw gains compared with August 2016. These included coal, 5.8%; crushed stone, sand and gravel, 12.1%, and metallic ores, 16.1%.

Decliners included grain, 20.4%; petroleum and petroleum products, 15.8%, and motor vehicles and parts, 11.2%.

Excluding coal, carloads were down 3.4% in August on-year. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down just 0.8%.

Total U.S. traffic for the first eight months of 2017 was 9,062,097 carloads, up 4.5% on-year, and 9,352,108 intermodal units, up 3.4%.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 35 weeks of 2017 was 18,414,205 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 4%.

"Rail traffic in August was a mixed bag, with gains in coal and sand, among other commodities, offset by declines in grain, autos, and crude oil," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. "These results reflect the fact that different rail customer segments are always facing different market dynamics, including, during the last week of August, Hurricane Harvey."

Gray added that railroads are dealing with flooding and damage on lines in Texas and beyond. “Railroads know that the quicker they can safely restore service, the quicker affected communities can obtain food, water, and other necessities; that supplies needed for rebuilding can be brought in; that debris can be removed, and that rail customers can return their operations to normal. In this regard, for railroads there is no alternative to long hours of very hard work in very difficult conditions, and that's what railroads have been putting in."