“August was the third straight month in which total year-over-year U.S. rail carloads have fallen,” Association of American Railroads (AAR) Senior Vice President John T. Gray reported on Sept. 6. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 35 weeks of 2023 was 16,173,208 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 4.9% compared to last year.
Gray said that a major reason why is that “other than automotive manufacturing, the industrial economy, in recent months, has not been doing as well as other areas of the economy. Until industrial activity, and especially manufacturing recovers, rail volumes in many key markets could remain constrained.”
According to AAR, U.S. Class I railroads for the first eight months of 2023 hauled a total of 7,852,770 carloads, up 0.0%, or 3,625 carloads, from the same period last year; and 8,320,438 intermodal units, down 9.2%, or 838,829 containers and trailers, from last year.
U.S. railroads originated 1,133,375 carloads in August 2023, down 2.0%, or 23,323 carloads, from August 2022. U.S. railroads also originated 1,239,290 containers and trailers in August 2023, down 6.3%, or 83,717 units, from the same month last year. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in August 2023 were 2,372,665, down 4.3%, or 107,040 carloads and intermodal units from August 2022.
In August 2023, nine of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with August 2022. These included: motor vehicles and parts, up 9,374 carloads or 13.6%; petroleum and petroleum products, up 5,567 carloads or 12.9%; and primary metal products, up 1,792 carloads or 4.6%. Commodities that saw declines in August 2023 from August 2022 included: grain, down 22,064 carloads or 22.9%; coal, down 9,754 carloads or 2.8%; and pulp and paper products, down 2,334 carloads or 10.2%.
Excluding coal, carloads were down 13,569 carloads, or 1.7%, in August 2023 from August 2022. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were up 8,495 carloads, or 1.2%.
Week 35 (Ending September 2, 2023)
Total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 476,851 carloads and intermodal units, down 5.4% compared with the same week last year.
Total carloads for the week ending September 2 were 231,113 carloads, down 1.6% compared with the same week in 2022, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 245,738 containers and trailers, down 8.7% compared to 2022.
North American rail volume for the first 35 weeks of the year (ending Sept. 2) on 10 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 337,338 carloads, down 0.1% compared with the same week last year, and 328,232 intermodal units, down 9.9% compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 665,570 carloads and intermodal units, down 5.2%. North American rail volume for the first 35 weeks of 2023 was 22,675,055 carloads and intermodal units, down 4.1% compared with 2022.
Five of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2022. They included motor vehicles and parts, up 2,274 carloads, to 16,073; metallic ores and metals, up 1,968 carloads, to 22,786; and chemicals, up 1,889 carloads, to 32,942. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2022 included coal, down 4,408 carloads, to 68,598; grain, down 4,403 carloads, to 14,961; and nonmetallic minerals, down 1,219 carloads, to 32,305.
Canadian railroads reported 89,904 carloads for the week, up 2.2%, and 72,134 intermodal units, down 14.6% compared with the same week in 2022. For the first 35 weeks of 2023, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 5,519,818 carloads, containers and trailers, down 3.3%.
Mexican railroads reported 16,321 carloads for the week, up 9.2% compared with the same week last year, and 10,360 intermodal units, down 3.5%. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 35 weeks of 2023 was 982,029 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 5.1% from the same point last year.