If the latest commodity carload data are any indication, there could be uncertainty ahead for the U.S. economic rally.
The Association of American Railroads reported U.S. rail traffic for the week ending October 20 came to 555,106 carloads and intermodal units, up a scant 0.5% from the same week in 2017.
Volume totaled 265,776 carloads, off 0.7%, while intermodal volume – ahead of the busy retail holiday selling season – was 289,330 containers and trailers, up 1.6% from the previous year.
The so-so numbers are surprising given continued positive growth across key economic indicators. What’s not clear is what factors, if any, are weighing on rail traffic, such as earlier orders from retailers, the effect of the Trump Administration’s tariffs on trade, or a general slowing of economic activity.
Petroleum and petroleum products continued their recent gains, up 17.6%, while miscellaneous shipments were better by 12.5% from a year ago, and metallic ores and metals increased 4.7%. Motor vehicles improved by 1.6%
But primary indicators grain, coal and chemicals were off from a year ago, by 6.6%, 0.4%, 0.2%, respectively.
For the first 42 weeks of this year, cumulative volume on U.S. railroads was 11,047,756 carloads, up 1.8%, and 11,691,908 intermodal units, up 5.7% from 2017. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 42 weeks was 22,739,664 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 3.8%.
North American rail volume for the week on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 374,491 carloads, up 0.8%, and 381,107 intermodal units, up 1.5%. Total combined weekly traffic was 755,598 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.1%. North American rail volume for the first 42 weeks of 2018 was 30,682,186 carloads and intermodal units, up 3.4% on-year.
Canadian railroads reported 87,523 carloads for the week, up 5.3%, and 71,830 intermodal units, up 2.1%. For the first 42 weeks, cumulative traffic of 6,314,875 carloads, containers and trailers was ahead by 3.6%.
Railroads in Mexico reported 21,192 carloads for the week, up 2.5%, and 19,947 intermodal units, down 3.2%. Cumulative volume for the first 42 weeks of 2018 was 1,627,647 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers.