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AAR: No warning signs in January rail traffic

U.S. railroads' combined traffic for January was steady, logging a 0.1 percent increase in carloads and intermodal units compared with the same month a year ago, according to Association for American Railroads (AAR) data.

Last month, U.S. railroads moved 1,217,405 carloads, down 3.4 percent, and 1,310,141 containers and trailers, up 3.5 percent, compared with January 2017. Combined carload and intermodal traffic was 2,527,546 units.

In January, eight of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by AAR on a monthly basis posted carload gains compared with a year ago. Those categories included crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 3,498 carloads or 3.8 percent; petroleum and petroleum products, up 3,196 carloads or 6.4 percent; and lumber and wood products, up 1,167 carloads or 8 percent.

Carload commodity categories that logged year-over-year decreases included coal, down 25,083 carloads or 5.8 percent; motor vehicles and parts, down 8,372 carloads or 10.1 percent; and grain, down 6,917 carloads or 5.8 percent.

"Recent stock market gyrations remind all of us that, when it comes to things related to the economy, conditions can change quickly. For now, though, rail volumes are not flashing strong warning signs," said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray in a press release.

Intermodal volume picked up where it left off last year, when it set a new annual record, Gray said.

"To be sure, we could do without January's sharp fall in motor vehicle and coal carloads, among others, but we're hopeful that the basic economy remains on a firm footing and that the recent turmoil in the markets simply represents an adjustment to potential interest rate changes," he said.

Excluding coal, carloads were down 17,348 carloads, or 2.1 percent, in January 2018 from January 2017. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 10,431 carloads, or 1.5 percent.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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