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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

AAR: U.S. rail carload, intermodal volumes fell in February


Extreme winter weather was the likely culprit behind a nearly 2 percent decline in U.S. railroad traffic during February compared with the same month in 2018, according to Association of American Railroads (AAR) data.

U.S. railroads moved 999,978 carloads last month, down 2.7 percent compared with the same month a year ago. Intermodal volume also fell a bit — 0.9 percent — during the month, with railroads logging 1,094,499 containers and trailers compared with February 2018.

Combined traffic totals dropped 1.8 percent to 2,094,477 carloads and intermodal units compared with last year's levels.

Eight of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by AAR each month posted carload gains for the month. They included petroleum and petroleum products, up 8,269 carloads or 20.5 percent; primary metal products, up 1,378 carloads or 3.7 percent; and pulp and paper products, up 1,165 carloads or 5.5 percent.

Commodities that logged declines last month included coal, down 22,945 carloads or 6.7 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel, down 6,190 carloads or 6.9 percent; and grain mill products, down 2,262 carloads or 5.9 percent.

While it's impossible to know how much of last month's dip in traffic was due to weather and how much was due to weakness in the overall economy, it seems likely that weather played a role, said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John Gray in a press release.

"Every winter causes problems for railroads, but this past February on average was noticeably colder than last year in much of the country and that may have been enough to pull rail volumes below last year. That said, trade-related uncertainty hasn’t helped, nor has the economic uncertainty engendered by perceived softness in parts of the economy," Gray said.

For the first two months of  2019 versus the same period a year ago, U.S. carload traffic slipped 0.3 percent to 2,238,465 units, while intermodal volume dipped 0.1 percent to 2,410,667 containers and trailers.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first nine weeks of 2019 was 4,649,132 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 0.2 percent compared with last year's levels.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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