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AAR: U.S. intermodal volume hit near record in May


U.S. railroads' intermodal volume outpaced carload traffic growth in May, logging 6.6 percent and 3.2 percent increases, respectively, compared with the same month last year, according to Association of American Railroads (AAR) data.

In May, U.S. railroads originated intermodal 1,398,203 containers and trailers, an increase of 86,010 units compared with the same month a year ago. U.S. railroads also originated 1,319,420 carloads — up 41,078 units  — compared with May 2017, according to an AAR press release.

Last month's intermodal volume was the second highest for any month in history, said John Gray, AAR senior vice president of policy and economics.

"Right now, the economy is clicking, and railroads are both beneficiaries and enablers of that," he said.

Combined, U.S. railroads moved 2,717,623 carload and intermodal units last month, a 4.9 percent gain over the year-ago period.

Fifteen of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by AAR on a monthly basis posted gains compared with May 2017. They included crushed stone, sand & gravel, up 16,811 carloads or 13.7 percent; chemicals, up 9,368 carloads or 6.1 percent; and coal, up 6,707 carloads or 1.7 percent.

Commodities that logged decreases last decreases compared with a year ago included nonmetallic minerals, down 4,187 carloads or 17 percent; metallic ores, down 2,254 carloads or 6.6 percent; and all other carloads, down 2,076 carloads or 6.9 percent.

One potential cloud on the horizon for railroads involves trade, said Gray.

"Freight railroads are essential to the flow of goods and rely on sensible trade policy," he said. "We're hopeful that federal policymakers will recognize that an unnecessary trade war would do far more harm than good."

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first five months of 2018 was 5,666,645 units, up 1.2 percent, or 66,071 carloads, from the same period last year. U.S. roads also reported 5,993,584 total intermodal units, up 6 percent, or 336,944 containers and trailers, from last year.