Grain off as crude again powers U.S. carloads

Written by Stuart Chirls, Senior Editor
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Association of American Railroads Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John T. Gray.

Surging shipments of crude-by-rail are fast putting other commodities in the rearview, while U.S. trade policy slows grain exports by domestic growers, according to the Association of American Railroads.

Railroads in the United States originated 1,338,037 carloads in October, up 1% from October 2017, and 1,443,914 containers and trailers, up 4.2%. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in October were 2,781,951 units, up 2.6% from the same month a year ago.

Thirteen of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw on-year gains, including major segments petroleum, 28.4%, and primary metal products, 9.8%. Coal shipments edged up 1.6%.

Declining were coke, 9.9%; crushed stone, sand and gravel, 9.6%, and grain, 4.8%.

“U.S. rail traffic in October was mixed. On the negative side, changing market conditions for frac sand caused lower rail carloads of crushed stone, sand, and gravel, while uncertainties in export markets helped keep grain carloads down,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “On the plus side, coal carloads in October rose for the first time in five months and intermodal enjoyed its second-best month ever. All in all, we expect most rail traffic categories to continue to benefit from what we hope will be continued solid economic growth.”

Excluding coal, carloads grew 0.6% in October from a year ago. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were 1.5% better.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first 10 months of 2018 was 11,586,596 carloads, up 1.9% on-year, and 12,275,918 intermodal units, up 5.8%.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 44 weeks of 2018 was 23,862,514 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 3.8% from 2017.

For the week ending November 3, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 560,046 carloads and intermodal units, up 5.4% from the same week in 2017.

Traffic totaled 270,305 carloads, up 1.8%, while intermodal volume was 289,741 containers and trailers, up 8.9%.

Seven of the 10 carload commodity groups finished ahead of the 2017 week including petroleum, 31.1%; miscellaneous carloads, 24.3%, and metallic ores and metals, 6.5%.

Grain tumbled 12.4%; motor vehicles and parts slowed by 4.8%.

North American rail volume for the week on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 377,391 carloads, up 3%, and 382,068 intermodal units, up 7.3% from the previous-year period. Combined traffic was 759,459 carloads and intermodal units, up 5.1%. Volume for the first 44 weeks of 2018 was 32,207,910 carloads and intermodal units, up 3.5%.

Canadian railroads reported 88,275 carloads for the week, up 7.7%, and 72,338 intermodal units, up 1.9%. For the first 44 weeks of this year, cumulative traffic of 6,637,910 carloads, containers and trailers improved by 3.7%.

Mexican railroads reported 18,811 carloads for the week, off 1.3% compared with the same week in 2017, and 19,989 intermodal units, up 5.3%. Cumulative volume for the first 44 weeks of 2018 was 1,707,486 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers.

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