Overall Rail Traffic Rose 2.5% in July

A slight decline in July 2016 of carload movements by U.S. railroads was the first such decline since last fall. However, total traffic was up for the month.

The Association of American Railroads reported on Thursday that carriers moved 1,019,239 units last month. The decline was in comparison to July 2016 traffic.

One bright spot in July, though, was intermodal traffic, which increased 5.6 percent to 1,058,354 containers and trailers.

Total traffic rose 2.5 percent to 2,077,593 units compared with July 2016.

Nine of the 20 carload commodity categories that AAR tracks posted gains. This included crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 15 percent or 13,458 carloads; coal, up 4 percent or 13,097 carloads; and chemicals, up 1.5 percent or 1,842 carloads.

Commodities that declined last month included grain, down 14 percent or 13,325 carloads; motor vehicles & parts, down 12.9 percent or 7,544 carloads; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 15.4 percent or 6,508 carloads.

“Beginning in July last year, certain categories of rail traffic — coal and grain in particular — saw a surge in rail volumes. That surge suddenly made comparisons to this year much tougher,” said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray in a statement. “That largely explains July’s carload decline.”

Gray said that July’s 5.6 percent gain is the sixth straight year-over-year monthly increase, and intermodal is on track to set an annual record this year.

Putting aside coal traffic, carloads declined 2.8 percent in July compared with a year ago. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 1 percent.

For the first seven months of this year, U.S. railroads have logged 7,718,692 carloads, an increase of 5.4 percent compared with the same period last year. Intermodal traffic rose 3.1 percent to 7,951,027 containers and trailers year-over-year.

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