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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

AAR: Railroads post traffic gains in 2017; intermodal sets record

U.S. rail traffic for all of 2017 rose 3.4 percent to 27,489,960 carloads and intermodal units compared with traffic in 2016, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

Carload traffic for the year climbed 2.9 percent to 13,478,126 units in 2017, while intermodal traffic increased 3.9 percent to 14,011,834 units for the year compared with 2016, according to an AAR press release.

Last month, U.S. railroads originated 2,064,133 carload and intermodal units, a 4 percent increase over the same month in 2016. Carload traffic last month grew 2.5 percent to 998,168 units, while intermodal volume grew 5.3 percent to 1,065,965 containers and trailers compared with the same period in 2016.

"Rail traffic finished 2017 on a positive note," said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray. "In December, total carloads were up for the first time in six months, and 14 of the 20 carload categories we track saw year-over-year gains — the most for any month in almost three years. Meanwhile, intermodal volume was up for the 11th straight month and set a new annual record, breaking the previous mark set in 2015."

Categories that posted year-over-year increases in December 2017 included crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 15,632 carloads or 23.1 percent; metallic ores, up 6,875 carloads or 35.2 percent; and chemicals, up 4,277 carloads or 3.5 percent.

Commodities that logged year-over-year decreases last month included grain, down 5,542 carloads or 6.1 percent; motor vehicles and parts, down 2,625 carloads or 4.1 percent; and nonmetallic minerals, down 1,424 carloads or 8.9 percent.

Excluding coal, carloads grew 3.6 percent last month from December 2016. Excluding coal and grain, carloads rose 5.2 percent.

"Rail traffic is a useful gauge of the state of the economy, and it shows that the economy's momentum strengthened in the fourth quarter of 2017," Gray added. "Coal, grain, and petroleum products are not nearly as GDP-dependent as most other categories of rail traffic. If you exclude them, U.S. rail carloads were up 5.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, their biggest quarterly percentage gain in more than three years."

Meanwhile, Canadian railroads reported cumulative traffic of 7,570,747 carloads, containers and trailers in 2017, a 10.6 percent gain over traffic in 2016.

Mexican railroads logged 1,427,306 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers in  2017, up 2 percent over traffic reported in 2016.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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