U.S. Rail Freight Traffic Declined During 2016, But December Traffic Figures Showed Increases

Although U.S. rail freight traffic fell in 2016 when compared with 2015, the Association of American Railroads is optimistic that based on late-year growth that the future looks a little brighter.

AARTotal rail traffic volume was 26,587,351 carloads and intermodal units, down 5 percent or 1,389,323 carloads and intermodal units from 2015.

AAR said that for the year U.S. carload traffic was 13,096,860 carloads, down 8.2 percent or 1,169,152 carloads, while intermodal containers and trailers were 13,490,491 units, down 1.6 percent or 220,171 containers and trailers.

Describing 2016 as challenging for America’s freight railroads, AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John T. Gray noted that it was the second consecutive year of declining traffic “ . . . due mainly to a weak manufacturing economy and turmoil in energy markets.”

Intermodal traffic failed to set a fourth straight annual record.

“That said, there are signs that the economy may be gradually returning to a period of growth,” Gray said in a statement.

Analysts can point to an uptick in traffic during December 2016 when compared with the same month in 2015.

Carload traffic totaled 973,642 carloads, up 2.8 percent or 26,147 while U.S. railroads originated 1,011,870 containers and trailers, up 11.2 percent or 102,215 units.

For December 2016, combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations were 1,985,512, up 6.9 percent or 128,362 carloads and intermodal units from December 2015.

Thirteen of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw carload gains compared with December 2015.

These included: coal, up 4.2 percent or 13,360 carloads; grain, up 10.5 percent or 8,663 carloads; and chemicals, up 3.9 percent or 4,599 carloads.

Commodities that fell included: petroleum and petroleum products, down 17.4 percent or 8,568 carloads; crushed stone, gravel and sand, down 4.1 percent or 2,889 carloads; and miscellaneous carloads, down 5.9 percent or 1,265 carloads.

Excluding coal, carloads were up 2 percent or 12,787 carloads in December 2016 from December 2015.

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