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AAR: Rail Traffic increased in June

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From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators. Graphs and excerpts reprinted with permission.

U.S. rail traffic in June 2017 was a mix of the good and the not so good. The good included intermodal, which was up 4.6% in June and 2.7% (179,515 containers and trailers) for the year to date. Year to-date intermodal volume through June was the highest ever. On the carload side, coal was up 13.2% in June and up 18.0% (326,783 carloads) for the first half. The first half of 2016 was a ridiculously bad period for coal, so the comparisons this year were pretty easy. As we go forward in 2017, the comps for coal will get much tougher. Carloads of crushed stone, gravel and sand were 18.5% higher in June and 12.8% higher in the first half. Thanks to surging sand shipments, this category set a year-to-date record this year. Year-to-date carloads of chemicals thorugh June were the highest ever too. The not so good included petroleum and petroleum products (down 15.2% in June, their 25th straight year-over-year decline) and motor vehicles and parts (down 7.9% in June for combined U.S. and Canadian carloads, their sixth straight monthly decline to match the six straight months in which new light vehicle sales have fallen). Total carloads in June 2017 were up 4.4% over last year; total carloads in the first half of 2017 were up 6.4% (404,078 carloads) over last year.

Rail Traffic Click on graph for larger image.

This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows U.S. average weekly rail carloads (NSA).  Dark blue is 2017.

Rail carloads have been weak over the last decade due to the decline in coal shipments.

t’s all relative, but from a short term perspective, for now U.S. rail carloads are doing pretty well. In June 2017 totaled 1,065,976, up 4.4%, or 45,174, over June 2016. That’s the eighth straight year-over-year monthly increase following 21 straight year-over-year monthly declines. Average weekly carloads in June 2017 were 266,494, the most for any month since October 2016. While June 2017 compares favorably with June 2016, it doesn’t fare well against June in most other years — since our records begin in 1988, only 2009 and 2016 had lower weekly average total carloads in June.

Rail TrafficThe second graph is for intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers):

U.S. railroads originated 1,113,575 containers and trailers in June 2017, up 4.6% (49,425 units) over June 2016 and the second-best June in history in terms of weekly average volume (slightly behind 2015). In June, the number of intermodal units originated by U.S. railroads exceeded the number of carloads for the ninth straight month. The first time that ever happened was May 2015, but it’s common now.


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