Coal Posts Impressive February Gains

Fueled by rising coal business, U.S. freight traffic in February rose 4.2 percent when compared with February 2016.

AARBut the story of the month was a 19.2 percent increase in coal traffic. The story, though, was not quite it might seem at first glance.

“The 19.2 percent increase in coal carloads in February 2017 was the highest percentage gain for coal since sometime before 1988, when our current record series began,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John T. Gray. ”While it’s an impressive gain, February 2017 was, unfortunately, also the second worst February in absolute terms for coal since sometime before 1988.”

Gray said the coal story is representative of the challenges that railroads are facing with changing markets.

“However, these same market changes are offering new opportunities,” he said in a statement. “Over the past 15 years, the industry has worked hard to create a solid foundation to exploit these opportunities.”

February 2017 carload traffic was 044,040, up 6.7 percent or 65,141 carloads from February 2016.

That same month railroads also originated 1,068,439 containers and trailers, up 1.8 percent or 19,350 units from the same month last year.

For February 2017, combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations were 2,112,479, up 4.2 percent or 84,491 carloads and intermodal units from February 2016.

Eleven of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with February 2016.

These included: coal, up 19.2 percent or 57,589 carloads; crushed stone, gravel, and sand, up 13.1 percent or 10,091 carloads; and primary metal products, up 6.8 percent or 2,357 carloads. Commodities that saw declines in February 2017 from February 2016 included: petroleum and petroleum products, down 12.4 percent or 5,543 carloads; motor vehicles and parts, down 4.8 percent or 3,746; carloads and metallic ores, down 19.1 percent or 2,793 carloads.

Excluding coal, carloads were up 1.1 percent or 7,552 carloads in February 2017 from February 2016.

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