Freight Traffic Fell 2.1% in May

Rail freight traffic was down 2.1 percent in May the Association of American Railroads reported this week.

U.S. railroads originated 1,291,671 carloads in May 2019, which was 28,065 fewer carloads that they handled in May 2018.

The railroads originated 1,315,684 containers and trailers in May 2019, a drop of 5.9 percent, or 82,521 units, from May 2018.

The combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in May 2019 was 2,607,355, down 4.1 percent or 110,586 carloads and intermodal units from May 2018.

Six of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR posted gains last month.

These included: petroleum & petroleum products, up 13,513 carloads or 25.9 percent; chemicals, up 2,630 carloads or 1.6 percent; and non-metallic minerals, up 2,534 carloads or 12.4 percent. Commodities that fell included: crushed stone, sand & gravel, down 20,358 carloads or 14.6 percent; grain, down 6,830 carloads or 5.7 percent; and primary metal products, down 3,117 carloads or 6.4 percent.

“The current weakness in the rail traffic numbers is due to a combination of factors,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics, John T. Gray. “These include flooding in the Midwest that’s been hindering the operations of railroads and many of their customers.

“More important is heightened economic uncertainty that’s being made worse by increased trade-related tensions; higher tariffs leading to reductions or disruptions of international trade, and lower industrial output. In addition, some rail markets are undergoing rapid change. For example, locally sourced frac sand in Texas is displacing sand that used to be shipped in by rail. Just by themselves, these reduced sand movements are having a material negative impact on total rail carloads.”

Excluding coal, carloads were down 26,417 carloads, or 2.9 percent, in May 2019 compared with May 2018. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 19,587 carloads, or 2.4 percent.

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