U.S. January Rail Freight Traffic Was Mixed Bag

U.S. rail freight in January was a mixed bag, the Association of American Railroads reported on Wednesday.

Six of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by AAR posted traffic gains when compared with January 2021.

These included coal, up 13,596 carloads or 5.6 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 4,384 carloads or 7.2 percent; and chemicals, up 1,099 carloads or 0.8 percent.

Declines were seen by grain, down 15,396 carloads or 14 percent; motor vehicles and parts, down 11,559 carloads or 19.8 percent; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 9,509 carloads or 20.1 percent.

The combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in January 2022 were 1,903,708, down 9.5 percent, or 199,657 carloads and intermodal units.

AAR officials said this was based on 902,265 carloads—down 3 percent or 27,861 carloads from the same month in 2021—and 1,001,443 containers and trailers—down 14.6 percent, or 171,796 units.

Excluding coal, carloads fell by 41,457, or 6 percent last month. Excluding coal and grain, carloads dropped by 26,061, or 4.5 percent.

AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray said January freight traffic “made for very difficult comparisons for a number of categories.”

He said January 2021 was the best January for grain since 1990, and was also the highest volume month ever for intermodal.

Gray said January 2022, though, saw the highest volume monthly volumes for rail carloads of chemicals, thus providing a strong base for future growth.

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