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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

U.S. rail traffic grew 2.6 percent in August


U.S. railroads logged a 2.6 percent increase in combined carload and intermodal traffic in August compared with the same month last year, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

A 5.6 percent increase in intermodal containers and trailers helped push the railroads' total combined traffic to 2,744,486 million units for the month compared with August 2016. But total carloads last month slipped 0.3 percent to 1,343,405 units, AAR officials said in a press release.

Seven of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by AAR on a monthly basis saw carload gains compared with August 2016. They included metallic ores, up 4,550 carloads or 16.1 percent; crushed stone, sand & gravel, up 14,506 carloads or 12.1 percent; and coal, up 25,926 carloads or 5.8 percent.

Carloads that posted decreases last month compared with a year ago included grain, down 24,565 carloads or 20.4 percent; petroleum & petroleum products, down 8,362 carloads or 15.8 percent.; and motor vehicles & parts, down 10,321 carloads or 11.2 percent.

"Rail traffic in August was a mixed bag, with gains in coal and sand, among other commodities, offset by declines in grain, autos, and crude oil," said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray. "These results reflect the fact that different rail customer segments are always facing different market dynamics, including, during the last week of August, Hurricane Harvey."

Railroads have long experience dealing with hurricanes, floods and tornadoes and their aftermath, Gray added.

"Railroads know that the quicker they can safely restore service, the quicker affected communities can obtain food, water, and other necessities; that supplies needed for rebuilding can be brought in; that debris can be removed; and that rail customers can return their operations to normal," Gray said. "In this regard, for railroads there is no alternative to long hours of very hard work in very difficult conditions, and that's what railroads have been putting in."

Excluding coal, carloads were down 30,497 carloads, or 3.4 percent, in August 2017 from August 2016. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 5,932 carloads, or 0.8 percent.

For the first eight months of 2017, total U.S. rail traffic climbed 4 percent to 18,414,205 carloads and intermodal units compared with the same period last year. Total carloads increased 4.5 percent to 9,062,097, while total intermodal containers and trailers rose 3.4 percent to 9,352,108 units.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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