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AAR: U.S. rail traffic numbers reflect 'mixed signals' so far in 2015

May was the first month on record that U.S. container and trailer traffic exceeded carloads, the Association of American Railroads reported yesterday.

U.S. railroads' carload traffic in May plummeted 9.4 percent to 1,074,285 units compared with carload traffic in May 2014. Railroads also originated 1,085,968 containers and trailers last month, up 3.8 percent or 40,057 units compared with the number of intermodal units a year ago.

Combined, U.S. carload and intermodal traffic fell 3.2 percent to 2,160,253 for the month.

Railroads logged gains in five of the 20 carload commodities tracked by AAR in May: motor vehicles and parts, up 4.5 percent or 3,207 carloads; waste and nonferrous scrap, up 3.8 percent or 519 carloads; and grain mill products, up 1.3 percent or 480 carloads. Traffic dropped for coal, down 17.4 percent or 77,992 carloads; primary metal products, down 17.9 percent or 8,058 carloads; and grain, down 6.2 percent or 5,027 carloads.

For the first five months of 2015, total U.S. rail traffic volume slipped 0.6 percent to 11,332,291 carloads and intermodal units.

"Mixed signals is a good term to use to describe the economy nowadays, and it applies to rail traffic too. Intermodal is on its way to another record-breaking year, but carload traffic is not doing well," said AAR Senior Vice President Policy and Economics John Gray in a press release. "The degree to which coal carloads have fallen has been a surprise, and the relative weakness in other carload categories is a sign that the economy is probably not yet in bounce-back mode after a dismal first quarter."

Total U.S. traffic for the week that ended May 30 was 505,543 carloads and intermodal units, down 4.9 percent compared with the same week last year.

Canadian railroads reported 75,173 carloads for the week, down 15.2 percent, and 63,598 intermodal units, up 6.7 percent compared with the same week in 2014. For the first 21 weeks of 2015, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 2,903,993 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 3.8 percent.

Mexican railroads reported 16,849 carloads for the week, up 0.7 percent compared with the same week last year, and 12,202 intermodal units, up 13.8 percent. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 21 weeks of 2015 was 559,382 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 2.9 percent from the same point last year.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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