Posts Tagged ‘rail freight traffic’

Carload Up, Intermodal Down Last Week

September 23, 2021

U.S. Railroads posted a 3.5 percent gain in carload traffic for the week ending Sept. 18.

The Association of American Railroads said Class 1 railroads handled 234,790 carloads.

Intermodal traffic did not fare as well falling 8.3 percent at 270,832 containers and trailers.

The comparisons are to the same week in 2020 and marked the seventh consecutive week of intermodal losses. 

Total rail traffic was 505,622 carloads and intermodal units, a decline of 3.1 percent when compared with the same week last year.

Seven of the 10 carload commodity groups tracked by AAR saw gains. They included coal, up 7,232 carloads, to 68,820; metallic ores and metals, up 5,203 carloads, to 24,798; and nonmetallic minerals, up 2,054 carloads, to 32,676.

Losing ground were were motor vehicles and parts, down 5,896 carloads, to 11,709; grain, down 2,609 carloads, to 19,432; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 388 carloads, to 10,494.

For the first 37 weeks of 2021, U.S. railroads handled a cumulative volume of 8,528,660 carloads, an 8 percent increase, with 10,265,525 intermodal units, increasing 10.9 percent from last year.

Total combined traffic for the first 37 weeks of 2021 has been 18,794,185 carloads and intermodal units, up 9.6 percent compared with last year.

Grain Shows Slight Gain Over 2019 Levels

October 29, 2020

U.S. rail freight traffic for the week ending Oct. 24 showed a slight increase due to rising intermodal volumes.

The Association of American Railroads said total traffic was 522,653 carloads and intermodal units, a 1.9 percent increase over the same week in 2019.

However, the 227,543 carloads represented a decline of 6.5 compared to the same week last year.

The 296,110 intermodal containers and trailers handled by the railroads was a 9.4 percent gain.

Five of 10 carload groups posted increases over 2019 levels, led by grain, up 23.2 percent.

Of the five categories that fell, the biggest losses were petroleum and petroleum products (down 21.8 percent) and coal (down 21.5 percent).

The 20,164,031 carloads and intermodal units to date is a 9.6 percent decline from 2019.

Grain traffic shows a gain over 2019 of 0.2 percent.

All other commodity groups remain down, led by coal (minus-26.4 percent) and motor vehicles and parts (minus-22.6 percent).

Weekly Freight Traffic Continues ‘Repeat’ Cycle

October 22, 2020

Like a broken record, U.S. rail traffic continues to be stuck on repeat.

For the week ending Oct. 17, the Association of American Railroads said rail traffic was 518,763 carloads and intermodal units, up 2.2 percent compared with the same week last year.

However, carloads at 226,828 were down 7.5 percent compared with the same week in 2019, while intermodal volume was 291,935 containers and trailers, up 11.3 percent.

This pattern of intermodal gains offsetting carload losses has played out for several weeks.

Four of the 10 carload commodity groups posted gains when compared with the same week in 2019.

Grain was up 4,920 carloads to 25,547, miscellaneous carloads rose 1,223 carloads to 10,411, and motor vehicles and parts were up 884 carloads, to 15,636.

Posting losses were coal, down 15,084 carloads, to 59,979; nonmetallic minerals, down 4,932 carloads, to 31,058; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 2,429 carloads, to 10,293.

For the first 42 weeks of 2020, U.S. railroads reported a cumulative volume of 9,025,595 carloads, down 14.9 percent from the same point last year; and 10,615,783 intermodal units, down 5.1 percent from last year.

Total combined traffic for the period was 19,641,378 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 9.8 percent compared to last year.

Rail Freight Traffic Down 17.6% in July

August 6, 2020

U.S. rail freight traffic in July was down 17.6 percent compared with the same month in 2019, the Association of American Railroads said on Wednesday.

The carriers originated 1,042,017 carloads in July 2020, down 222,337 carloads from July 2019.

They originated 1,295,960 containers and trailers in July, down 1.4 percent or 18,403 units, from the same month last year.

Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in July 2020 were 2,337,977, down 9.3 percent or 240,740 carloads and intermodal units from July 2019.

Three of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with July 2019.

These were food products, up 475 carloads or 1.7 percent; farm products excl. grain, up 295 carloads or 8.3 percent; and lumber & wood products, up 258 carloads or 1.6 percent. Commodities that declined included commodities coal, down 110,225 carloads or 28.7 percent; crushed stone, sand & gravel, down 29,547 carloads or 24.8 percent; and metallic ores, down 21,942 carloads or 63.7 percent.

Excluding coal, carloads were down 112,112 carloads, or 12.7 percent, in July 2020 from July 2019. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 100,575 carloads, or 13.2 percent.

“The old saying, ‘You have to play the hand you’re dealt’ applies to railroads,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray in a statement.

“Rail traffic, like the overall economy, is generally trending in the right direction, but progress is slow; there’s a long way to go before it’s back to normal; and both week-to-week improvements and setbacks in individual commodities are to be expected. Coal and other energy-related rail commodities continue to struggle more than most, while intermodal is closer than any other rail traffic category to pre-pandemic levels.”

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first seven months of 2020 was 6,550,030 carloads, down 16.2 percent, or 1,266,725 carloads, from the same period last year; and 7,487,523 intermodal units, down 9.1 percent, or 751,100 containers and trailers, from last year.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 31 weeks of 2020 was 14,037,553 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 12.6 percent compared to last year.

Rail Freight Traffic Down 23.3% Last Week

April 24, 2020

Rail freight traffic continued to slide last week with the Association of American Railroads reporting that for the week ending April 18 that traffic was down 23.3 percent.

Railroads handled 403,283 carloads and intermodal units during the week. The comparison is with the same week in 2019.

Total carloads for the week ending April 18 were 189,598 carloads, down 27.5 percent while intermodal volume was 213,685 containers and trailers, down 19.1 percent.

In a news release, AAR said none of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2019.

Among the declines were coal, down 35,555 carloads, to 48,423; motor vehicles and parts, down 14,459 carloads, to 1,943; and non-metallic minerals, down 5,188 carloads, to 30,377.

“Rail volumes suffered again last week as extremely difficult times for rail customers and the economy continued,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray in a statement.

For the first 16 weeks of 2020, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 3,592,286 carloads, down 9.5 percent from the same point last year; and 3,823,931 intermodal units, down 10.4 percent from last year.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 16 weeks of 2020 was 7,416,217 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 10 percent compared with last year.

Rail Freight 2020 Outlook Not Promising

January 17, 2020

Railroad industry observers said during a webinar on Thursday that they expect rail traffic to remain depressed for at least the first half of this year.

They based that on the facts that manufacturing has slowed, retail inventories remain high, and railroads are facing tough competition from truckers who have plenty of capacity to move freight.

The webinar was sponsored by FTR Transportation Intelligence.

Eric Starks, FTR’s chairman and CEO, said during the conference that the U.S. economy should grown by 2 percent this year but from a railroad perspective that is offset by manufacturing having contracted for the last five months.

This past December manufacturing was at its lowest level since the Great Recession of 2008.

That doesn’t mean the economy is headed for a recession, he said.

Starks noted that manufacturing drives railroad carload traffic.

Bright spots for the economic outlook include strong consumer spending and unemployment figures that are at a 50-year low.

Housing starts and construction look strong, but retail inventories remain higher than sales, which suggests consumer-related freight is not growing.

Truckers are also being pinched by that fact. Avery Vise of FTR said truck freight volume is expected to increase by just 1 percent in 2020.

That might seem mediocre but is better than the prospects for rail freight said FTR’s Todd Tranausk. He sees no evidence that carload traffic will recover this year after falling in 2019.

He cited trade tensions, a sharp falloff in coal traffic and the slowing of industrial production.

Although consumer spending rose last year, intermodal traffic volumes failed to reflect that and Tranausky expects 2020 to continue to see rail intermodal traffic remain below the five-year average.

Railroads have made improvements in their service, Tranausky said, but that will only gain them increased traffic when and if capacity becomes tight in the trucking industry.

For now that seems unlikely because trucking companies have ample capacity.

Other challenges for intermodal include trade disputes, the shift of international traffic from West Coast ports to the East Coast, and operational changes related to the adoption of the precision scheduled railroading operating model.

Railroads have scaled back their intermodal interchanges in Chicago and shut down many intermodal service lanes.

“All of those factors have created a sort of perfect storm that have been a headwind to intermodal growth, not just on a year-over-year basis but on a five year average comparison as well,” Tranausky said.

As for the growth of East Coast ports in handling international containers, Tranausky said those are more likely to move from port to destination by truck than containers arriving at West Coast ports.

That is because inland destinations from East Coast and even Gulf Coast ports are a day’s drive away.

What could change these trends is something unforeseen such as a sharp increase in oil prices.

If that were to happen that could be to the advantage of railroads because when diesel fuel prices skyrocket shippers tend to begin moving more freight by rail.

Higher oil prices could also stimulate more exploration for oil, which would benefit railroads by increasing the market to move such commodities as frac sand, crude oil and steel pipe.

Multiple Factors Are Behind Rail Freight Slump

August 15, 2019

Sagging rail freight traffic volumes this year have widely been attributed to a slowing economy and the effects of an ongoing trade war, but an independent railroad analyst recently wrote in Progressive Railroading that other factors are behind the slow down as well.

Anthony Hatch said those other factors include unusually wet weather this year in the Midwest, competition from trucks, the effects of the switch to the precision scheduled railroading operating model, and economic factors that boosted traffic in 2018 that are no longer benefiting the railroads this year.

The latter includes the benefit of a tax cut that went into effect in 2018 that boosted freight traffic by mid single digits in the second and third quarters of 2018.

But the effects of that tax cut are fading and no longer giving freight traffic the boost it enjoyed last year.

As for the economy, Hatch wrote that it is sending mixed signals. Although there has been weakness in manufacturing, employment has remained strong.

The effects of the trade war have been widely documented, most notably how China has stopped buying U.S. farm products.

Hatch wrote that the trade picture overall continues to be worrisome for railroads because more than half of the rail business is trade dependent or related.

As for weather, Hatch noted that flooding disrupted rail freight traffic in the second quarter of this year and that the outlook for corn production this year is down due to the effects of the flowing.

PSR received a lot of headlines for its promise of more efficient and less costly operations, but Hatch said it has affected freight traffic in two stages.

He said the first stage is difficult to quantify but some shippers may have avoided rail in the early days of PSR implementation.

However, Hatch said that historically business returns to the rails as performance improves.

Hatch wrote that little has been written about how PSR has led to what he termed “planned  volume loss.”

For example, CSX programmed a 7 percent intermodal volume reduction this year.

In implementing PSR, railroads are eliminating some service lanes, using assessorial charges to “change customer behavior” and reducing their marketing and operating staffs.

Railroads contend, Hatch said, that once they’ve worked out the kings from their PSR operations they will pivot to growing traffic.

CN Led Traffic Growth in 2017

January 9, 2018

Canadian National led all North American Class 1 railroads in 2017 in traffic growth.

The Montreal-based carrier posted a 10.4 percent increase in carload and intermodal traffic, which was more than double the industry average.

The figures are based on data compiled by the Association of American Railroads, which said that on an industry-wide basis North American rail traffic rose by 4.8 percent in 2017.

Last year, CN saw an increase of 16 percent in its intermodal business and 9 percent in merchandise traffic.

In second place was BNSF, which saw its traffic rise 5.4 percent, much of it fueled by a growth of 6 percent in intermodal and coal business.

Kansas City Southern finished third in the traffic growth derby with 5.2 percent growth in traffic, most of it in merchandise business, which was up 9 percent.

Norfolk Southern had growth of 4.9 percent, much of it coming from intermodal traffic. Canadian Pacific had traffic growth of 4.4 percent, much of it potash and frac sand traffic.

At Union Pacific, traffic was up 2 percent, based largely on coal and frac sand.

CSX was the only class 1 to see traffic decline, by 0.2 percent. Carload traffic at CSX fell by 1.4 percent while intermodal dropped by 2.2 percent.

Grain Traffic Bright Spot for U.S. Railroads

September 21, 2016

The Association of American Railroads said that grain traffic by rail this year has been surpassing carload numbers from 2015, with grain carloads up by more than 26 percent to 22,599 carloads.

AARThis equates to more than 250 90-car unit grain trains per week.

AAR said the first two weeks of September have yielded higher volumes of grain shipments and that during August grain traffic averaged about 25 percent higher than during the same month last year.

Grain is one of the few commodity groups in which the AAR has been posting substantial traffic increases. Coal and energy-related commodities continue to tumble.

Overall U.S. rail traffic is down more than 5 percent in 2016 when compared to 2015.

U.S. Railroad Freight Traffic Declined in May

June 2, 2016

U.S. rail traffic continued its downward trend in May. The Association of American Railroads said carload traffic for the month was 962,571 carloads, down 10.3 percent or 110,678 from May 2015.

AARRailroads originated 1,049,631 containers and trailers in May 2016, down 3.3 percent or 36,365 units while carload and intermodal originations were 2,012,202, down 6.8 percent or 147,043 carloads and intermodal units from May 2015.

AAR said its findings come with a caveat. Memorial Day is not included in the AAR May 2016 rail traffic data, but is included in May 2015 data. The May 2016 data is somewhat overstated compared to May 2015, the AAR said.

“Most economists think the economy has picked up in the second quarter from the dismal 0.8 percent growth in the first quarter, but so far railroads aren’t seeing much of it,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John T. Gray. “A variety of environmental and market forces continue to punish coal, and high business inventory levels and excess truck capacity, among other things, are pressuring rail intermodal volumes. Railroads are focusing on what they can control — providing safe, reliable service — while looking forward to the forces they can’t control turning their way.”

AAR said that during May 2016, 10 of the 20 carload commodity categories that it tracks saw carload gains compared with May 2015.

These included miscellaneous carloads, up 30.8 percent or 5,854 carloads; crushed stone, gravel and sand, up 5.3 percent or 4,670 carloads; and chemicals, up 3.8 percent or 4,514 carloads.

Falling off in May 2016 were coal, down 29.6 percent or 109,276 carloads; petroleum and petroleum products, down 20.3 percent or 11,988 carloads; and metallic ores, down 12.9 percent or 3,701 carloads.

Excluding coal, carloads were down 0.2 percent or 1,402 carloads in May 2016 from May 2015.

Total carload traffic for the first 21 weeks of 2016 was 5,050,191 carloads, down 13.6 percent or 792,892 carloads, while intermodal containers and trailers were 5,417,763 units, down 1.3 percent or 70,136 containers and trailers when compared to the same period in 2015.

For the first five months of 2016, total rail traffic volume in the United States was 10,467,954 carloads and intermodal units, down 7.6 percent or 863,028 carloads and intermodal units from the same point last year.