For February, Carloads, Intermodal Volume Decline

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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U.S rail traffic in February 2023 lagged the same month last year—down 5.2% or 101,452 carloads and intermodal units, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported March 1. This follows January’s 3.2% drop from the prior-year period; while carloads rose slightly during the first month of the year, intermodal experienced its worst January since 2013.

According to AAR, U.S. Class I railroads in February 2023 hauled 1,849,723 carloads and intermodal units, comprising 905,744 carloads (down 1.6%) and 943,979 containers and trailers (down 8.4%). In contrast, February 2022 U.S. rail traffic experienced big year-over-year gains largely due to severe winter storms holding back volumes in 2021; February 2019 U.S. rail traffic was behind February 2018, reflecting weather and/or economic and trade-related uncertainty.

“Coal, chemicals and grain together account for more than half of all non-intermodal U.S. rail volume [in February 2023],” AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray reported in the just-released rail traffic report, which covers last month and the week ending Feb. 25, 2023. “When all three are down like they were in February, it’s very hard for total carloads not to be down, too. On the positive side, several commodities including crushed stone and sand, petroleum products, steel products, grain mill and food products showed very strong performances.”

In February 2023, eight of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with February 2022. These included crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 8,821 carloads or 13.1%; petroleum and petroleum products, up 5,833 carloads or 15.8%; and motor vehicles and parts, up 4,389 carloads or 8.9%. Commodities that saw declines included coal, down 16,648 carloads or 6.1%; grain, down 9,227 carloads or 9.7%; and chemicals, down 6,298 carloads or 4.6%.

Excluding coal, carloads were up 1,547, or 0.2%, in February 2023 from February 2022. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were up 10,774, or 2.0%.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first two months of 2023 came in at 1,829,440 carloads, up 0.3%, or 4,726 carloads, from the same period last year; and 1,863,907 intermodal units, down 8.3%, or 167,794 containers and trailers, from 2022.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first eight weeks of 2023 was 3,693,347 carloads and intermodal units, falling 4.2% from last year.

Week Ending Feb. 25, 2023

For the week ending Feb. 25, 2023, U.S. Class I railroads hauled 459,233 carloads and intermodal units, a 5.9% drop-off vs. the same week last year. Total carloads came in at 226,435, up 0.1%, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 232,798 containers and trailers, down 11.1% compared with 2022.

Five of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2022. They included nonmetallic minerals, up 2,978 carloads, to 30,142; petroleum and petroleum products, up 1,890 carloads, to 10,629; and farm products excluding grain, and food, up 1,385 carloads, to 17,267. Commodity groups that posted decreases included coal, down 2,971 carloads, to 64,218; chemicals, down 1,711 carloads, to 32,234; and grain, down 1,700 carloads, to 20,511.

North American rail volume for the week ending Feb. 25, 2023, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 327,221 carloads, an uptick of 2.9%, and 308,029 intermodal units, a drop of 9.3% from 2022. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 635,250 carloads and intermodal units, down 3.4%. North American rail volume for the first eight weeks of 2023 was 5,096,524 carloads and intermodal units, down 2.3% compared with 2022.

For the week ending Feb. 25, 2023, Canadian railroads reported 75,994 carloads, up 7.9%, and 59,210 intermodal units, down 3.6% compared with the same week last year. For the first eight weeks of 2023, they reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 1,111,310 carloads, containers and trailers, rising 4.5% from 2022.

Mexican railroads reported 24,792 carloads for the week ending Feb. 25, 2023, a 16.2% gain compared with the same week last year, and 16,021 intermodal units, a 0.7% decrease. Their cumulative volume for the first eight weeks of this year was 291,867 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, dipping 1.7 percent from the same point in 2022.

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