Rail freight traffic drop: Weather, or economic and trade-related uncertainty?

Date: Friday, March 8, 2019
Source: Railway Age

Rail freight traffic for the month of February 2019 and the week ending March 2, 2019 declined, according to Association of American Railroads figures.

“It’s impossible to know how much of the sluggishness in rail volumes in February was due to weather and how much was due to weakness in the overall economy, but it seems likely that weather played a role,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John T. Gray. “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.”

U.S. railroads originated 999,978 carloads in February 2019, down 2.7%, or 28,238 carloads, from February 2018. U.S. railroads also originated 1,094,499 containers and trailers in February 2019, down 0.9%, or 9,513 units, from the same month last year. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in February 2019 were 2,094,477, down 1.8%, or 37,751 carloads and intermodal units from February 2018.

In February 2019, eight of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with February 2018. These included: petroleum & petroleum products, up 8,269 carloads or 20.5%; primary metal products, up 1,378 carloads or 3.7%; and pulp & paper products, up 1,165 carloads or 5.5%. Commodities that saw declines in February 2019 from February 2018 included: coal, down 22,945 carloads or 6.7%; crushed stone, sand & gravel, down 6,190 carloads or 6.9%; and grain mill products, down 2,262 carloads or 5.9%.

Excluding coal, carloads were down 5,293 carloads, or 0.8%, in February 2019 from February 2018. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 5,458 carloads, or 0.9%.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first two months of 2019 was 2,238,465 carloads, down 0.3%, or -7,184 carloads, from the same period last year; and 2,410,667 intermodal units, down 0.1%, or -3,505 containers and trailers, from last year.

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% compared to last year.

Week ending March 2, 2019

Total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 528,153 carloads and intermodal units, down 3% compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending March 2 were 250,522 carloads, down 5.5% compared with the same week in 2018, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 277,631 containers and trailers, down 0.7% compared to 2018.

Two of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2018. They were petroleum and petroleum products, up 1,920 carloads, to 11,882; and motor vehicles and parts, up 53 carloads, to 18,423. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2018 included coal, down 7,130 carloads, to 78,596; grain, down 2,961 carloads, to 20,314; and nonmetallic minerals, down 2,750 carloads, to 31,934.

North American rail volume for the week ending March 2, 2019, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 349,448 carloads, down 4.7% compared with the same week last year, and 363,353 intermodal units, down 1.4% compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 712,801 carloads and intermodal units, down 3%. North American rail volume for the first nine weeks of 2019 was 6,248,420 carloads and intermodal units, down 0.2% compared with 2018.

 

Canadian railroads reported 77,067 carloads for the week, down 3.1%, and 67,977 intermodal units, down 3.6% compared with the same week in 2018. For the first nine weeks of 2019, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 1,285,412 carloads, containers and trailers, up 2%.

Mexican railroads reported 21,859 carloads for the week, down 0.8% compared with the same week last year, and 17,745 intermodal units, down 3.2%. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first nine weeks of 2019 was 313,876 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, down 8.5% from the same point last year.

 

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