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AAR: Carloads trailed intermodal volume in February

U.S. railroads' intermodal volume increased 6.9 percent last month.
Photo – Association of American Railroads

The intermodal upswing continued last month, as U.S. railroads' intermodal volume grew 6.9 percent to 1,104,001 containers and trailers compared with February's volume.

However, the roads' carload volume slipped 0.3 percent to 1,028,141 units for the month. U.S. railroads reported a combined 2,132,142 carloads and intermodal units, marking a 3.3 percent increase over last year, according to Association of American Railroads (AAR) data.

In February, nine of the 20 carload commodities that AAR tracks each month logged carload gains compared to the same month in 2017. Those included metallic ores, up 19.4 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel shipments, up 7.5 percent; and chemicals, up 3.4 percent.

Commodities that logged carload declines included coal, down 1.7 percent; grain down 5.3 percent; and motor vehicles and parts, down 4.5 percent.

“Rail carloads in February, like in many other recent months, were held back by declines in coal, grain, and motor vehicles,” said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray in a press release. “Declines in those categories are unfortunate, but they don’t reflect general weakness in the economy. Excluding them, carloads were up a reasonably solid 2.1 percent in February."

February was the best month ever for carloads of chemicals and the second best for intermodal volume, Gray added.

"While these are good signs for the broader economy going forward, they are potentially compromised by the uncertainty created by recent developments in trade policy," he said.

For the first two months of 2018, U.S. railroads reported 2,245,546 carloads, down 2 percent from the same period last year. At the same time, the roads' intermodal volume grew 5 percent to 2,414,142 units.

Also during the first nine weeks, U.S. railroads logged total combined traffic of 4,659,688 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.5 percent compared with the same period a year ago.

Meanwhile, for the week ending March 3, U.S. railroads logged 544,194 carloads and intermodal units, up 5.8 percent compared with the same week in 2017. Total carloads were up 1.3 percent to 264,659 units, while intermodal volume shot up 10.4 percent to 279,535 containers and trailers.

Of the 10 commodities that AAR tracks on a weekly basis, six logged increases. Those included chemicals, up 1,941 carloads to 33,983 units; miscellaneous carloads, up 1,142 carloads to 11,766 units; and nonmetallic minerals, up 899 carloads to 34,680 units.

For the same week, Canadian railroads reported 74,469 carloads, down 1.2 percent, and 70,595 intermodal units, up 16.4 percent compared with Week 9 in 2017. For the first nine weeks of 2018, Canadian railroads reported cumulative volume of 1,261,814 carloads, container and trailers, up 0.7 percent.

Mexican railroads reported 21,976 carloads for the week, up 4.7 percent compared with the same week last year. They also reported 18,410 intermodal units, down 2.8 percent. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first nine weeks of 2018 was 342,022 carloads and intermodal units, down 0.8 percent from the same point last year.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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