Intermodal doubles down on April carload gains

Written by Stuart Chirls, Senior Editor

AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John T. Gray.

Freight traffic among U.S. railroads in April was 3.3% higher than the same month a year ago, according to the Association of American Railroads.

Class I carriers hauled 1,051,026 carloads in April, as well as 1,099,000 containers and trailers, up 6.8%. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations were 2,150,026, up 5.1% percent from April 2017.

April’s data was powered by intermodal, which racked up its highest quarterly gains in four years.

Fifteen of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR registered gains including crushed stone, sand and gravel, 8.6%; grain, 5.7%, and coal, 2.4 %. Decliners included primary forest products, 14.6%; nonmetallic minerals, 13%, and waste and nonferrous scrap, 7.1%.

“Total U.S. rail traffic so far this year is a shade below where it was in 2015, but otherwise is higher than it’s been in the last 10 years,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John T. Gray. “Additionally, 15 of the 20 commodity categories we track had higher carloads in April 2018 than in April 2017, the most since January 2015. That’s good news for railroads and good news for the economy.”

Excluding coal, carloads were up 3.8%; excluding coal and grain, 3.5%.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first four months of 2018 was 4,347,225 units, up 0.6% from the same period a year ago; 250,934

intermodal units gained 5.8%.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 17 weeks of 2018 was 8,942,606 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 3.2% on-year.

For the week ending April 28, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 551,498 carloads and intermodal units, up 5.9%.

Weekly carloads totaled 266,453 units, up 3.7% compared with the same week in 2017, while intermodal volume was 285,045 containers and trailers, up 8.1%.

Nine of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2017. They included coal, 4.2%; nonmetallic minerals, 4.8%, and and petroleum and petroleum products, 13.1%. One commodity posted a decrease: metallic ores and metals was off a narrow 0.8%.

North American rail volume for the week on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 372,452 carloads, up 2.7% year-on-year, and 370,863 intermodal units, up 6.3%. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 743,315 carloads and intermodal units, up 4.5%. Volume for the first 17 weeks of 2018 was 12,053,949 carloads and intermodal units, up 2.8% compared with 2017.

Canadian railroads reported 84,115 carloads for the week, up 1.1%, and 68,512 intermodal units, up 3.5% compared with the same week in 2017. For the first 17 weeks of 2018, Canadian railroads reported cumulative volume of 2,465,091 carloads, containers and trailers, up 2.7%.

Mexican railroads reported 21,884 carloads for the week and 17,306 intermodal units. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 17 weeks of 2018 was 646,252 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers. Comparative data was not available.

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