U.S. Rail Freight Traffic up 5.2% in April

U.S. rail freight grew in April, leading some analysts to ask if the rail freight traffic slump is over.

The railroads originated 1,023,300 carloads in April 2017, up 8.4 percent, or 78,949 carloads, over April 2016.

On the intermodal side, railroads originated 1,052,001 containers and trailers in April 2017, up 2.3 percent, or 23,448 units over 2016.

Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in April 2017 were 2,075,301, up 5.2 percent or 102,397 carloads and intermodal units over April 2016.

“U.S. grain car loadings during April 2017 were the highest since 2011, with rail grain deliveries to ports since the first of the year running 19 percent ahead of 2016,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John T. Gray. “These agricultural exports improve our balance of trade and strengthen the farm economy.”

However, motor vehicle sales fell in April for the second straight month. Gray attributed that to financing companies tightening credit “following the satisfaction of the pent-up demand coming out of the 2009 recession.”

That led to a drop in rail shipments of motor vehicles and parts in April.

“We are hopeful that the upcoming summer buying season will clear dealer inventories and drive up demand for railroads to deliver new vehicles,” Gray said.

In April 2017, 10 of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with April 2016.

These included: coal, up 26.7 percent or 65,158 carloads; grain, up 18.7 percent or 14,612 carloads; and crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 12.9 percent or 11,777 carloads. Commodities that saw declines in April 2017 from April 2016 included petroleum and petroleum products, down 13.1 percent or 5,929 carloads; motor vehicles and parts, down 9.1 percent or 6,777 carloads; and metallic ores, down 8.4 percent or 2,083 carloads.

Excluding coal, carloads were up 2 percent, or 13,791 carloads, in April 2017, compared with April 2016.

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