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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

U.S. rail traffic down 11.8 percent in April


U.S. combined carload and intermodal traffic declined 11.8 percent last month compared with April 2015, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) announced yesterday.

Carload traffic for the month totaled 944,339 carloads, down 16.1 percent, and 1,028,460 containers and trailers, down 7.5 percent from a year ago, according to an AAR press release.

Coal — down 39.7 percent or 160,624 carloads — led the commodities that posted decreases last month. Excluding coal, carloads were down 2.8 percent, or 19,974 carloads, from April 2015.

Other commodities that logged decreases last month included petroleum and petroleum products, down 25.1 percent or 15,122 carloads; and grain mill products, down 7.1 percent or 2,760 carloads.

Also last month, five of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month had traffic gains. They included: miscellaneous carloads, up 25 percent or 4,743 carloads; coke, up 16.1 percent or 2,354 carloads; and chemicals, up 1.5 percent or 1,909 carloads.

For the first 17 weeks of 2016, U.S. rail traffic fell 14.3 percent to 4,087,620 carloads, while intermodal volume slipped 0.8 percent to 4,368,132 containers and trailers compared with traffic during the same period in 2015. Combined, rail traffic volume was down 7.8 percent to 8,455,752 carloads and intermodal units compared with a year ago.

"Rail coal traffic continues to suffer due to low natural gas prices and high coal stockpiles at power plants. Coal accounted for just 26 percent of non-intermodal rail traffic for U.S. railroads in April 2016, down from 36 percent in April 2015 and 45 percent as recently as late 2011," said John Gray, AAR's senior vice president of policy and economics.

"We expect non-coal carloads to strengthen when the economy gets stronger, and we think intermodal weakness in April is probably at least partly a function of high business inventories that need to be drawn down before new orders, and thus new shipments, are made," Gray added.
For the first 17 weeks of the year, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 2,187,859 carloads, containers and trailers, down 6.6 percent compared with the same period last year. Mexican railroads' cumulative volume for the 17-week period fell 0.2 percent to 451,652 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers compared with a year ago.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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