Intermodal, crude lead AAR volumes higher in September

Written by Stuart Chirls, Senior Editor
Garden City port intermodal

The Mason Intermodal Container Transfer Facility at the Georgia Ports Authority’s Garden City Terminal. Photo: Georgia Ports Authority/Stephen B. Morton

September’s change of seasons didn’t cool off the year-long rise in U.S. rail freight commodities and intermodal traffic.

That held for most traffic for the week ending September 29 as well as volumes for all of September, according to the Association of American Railroads.

For the month U.S. railroads originated 1,066,826 carloads, up 2.6% from September 2017. Carriers originated 1,127,385 containers and trailers, up 6.2%. Combined carload and intermodal originations were 2,194,211, up 4.4%, from the year-ago month.

Petroleum led 14 of 20 carload commodity categories higher, bubbling up 41.5% percent, followed by chemicals, 4.2%, and grain, 6.1%. Decliners included coal, 1.6%; crushed stone, sand and gravel, 3%, and motor vehicles, 1.3%.

“Weakness in a few commodity categories notwithstanding, rail traffic in September was consistent with the economy we have today in which fundamentals like industrial output and consumer spending are solid,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John T. Gray. “Intermodal, the business line most closely related to consumer spending, was especially strong – the last two weeks of September were the top two weeks in history for U.S. intermodal. Tracking the economy and rail traffic require diligence to help identify turning points, but for now there is no indication that good economic times will end in the immediate future.”

Excluding coal, carloads were up 4.7% in September from a year ago. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were up 4.5%.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first nine months of 2018 was 10,248,559 carloads, up 2% on-year, and 10,832,004 intermodal units, up 6%.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 39 weeks was 21,080,563 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 4%.

For the week ending September 29, total U.S. traffic was 571,922 carloads and intermodal units, up 3.7% from 2017.

Volume totaled 272,306 carloads, up 0.5%, while intermodal climbed 6.8%.

Six of the 10 carload commodity groups gained, led by petroleum, 30.5%. Other gainers were metallic ores and metals, 7.7%, and chemicals, 4.4%. Decreases came in nonmetallic minerals, 10%; grain, 7.4%; motor vehicles, 4.6%, and forest products, 2.9%.

North American weekly volume on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 380,801 carloads, up 0.7%, and 392,322 intermodal units, up 4.6%. Total combined traffic was 773,123 carloads and intermodal units, up 2.7%. Volume for the first 39 weeks of 2018 was 28,431,600 carloads and intermodal units, up 3.6% compared with 2017.

Canadian railroads reported 88,889 carloads for the week, up 2.7%, and 74,012 intermodal units, up 1.4%. For the first 39 weeks, cumulative traffic of 5,844,306 carloads, containers and trailers was ahead by 3.7%.

Mexican railroads reported 19,606 carloads for the week, down 4.6%, and 18,694 intermodal units, off 13.7%. Cumulative volume for the first 39 weeks was 1,506,731 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers.

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