Carload, intermodal traffic on the upswing

Written by Stuart Chirls, Senior Editor
Union Pacific freight train

Photo: Spencer Hughes/YouTube

As the economy goes, so go the railroads, and the latest weekly data show an improving picture for carload commodities.

The Association of American Railroads reported U.S. rail traffic for the week ending May 5 was 545,937 carloads and intermodal units, up 7.5% compared with the same week in 2017.

Total traffic was 265,563 carloads, up 6.4% and 280,374 containers and trailers, up 8.5% from a year ago.

Nine of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2017. Grain improved 14.9%; nonmetallic minerals 11.4%; chemicals 9.5%; coal 5.5%, and motor vehicles 8.2%.

Only miscellaneous carloads – the smallest category by volume – fell, by 23.9%.

Support for commodities include China, which continues to buy U.S. corn on the open market instead of tapping its reserves. As gas prices remain under $3 a gallon, shipments of vehicles remained on the upswing despite news May 9 that April sales of cars were weaker while trucks and SUVs are still in demand. Years of declining car sales led Ford to announce it will shrink its catalogue to just a few models, while General Motors no longer releases monthly sales data.

For the first 18 weeks of 2018, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 4,612,788 carloads, up 0.9%, and 4,875,755 intermodal units, up 5.9% on-year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 18 weeks of 2018 was 9,488,543 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 3.4%.

North American rail volume for the week on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 371,260 carloads, up 6.4%, and 366,970 intermodal units, up 7.4%. Total combined weekly traffic was 738,230 carloads and intermodal units, up 6.9%. North American rail volume for the first 18 weeks of 2018 was 12,792,179 carloads and intermodal units, up 3%.

Canadian railroads reported 86,114 carloads for the week, up 5.8%, and 71,685 intermodal units, ahead 7%. For the first 18 weeks of this year Canadian railroads reported cumulative volume of 2,622,890 carloads, containers and trailers, a gain of 2.9%.

Mexican railroads reported 19,583 carloads for the week and 14,911 intermodal units. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 18 weeks was 680,746 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers. Comparisons were not available.

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