AAR: Rail traffic grows 4.2 percent in February as coal soars

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USTrendsFeb25
Association of American Railroads
USTrafficFeb25
Association of American Railroads
WASHINGTON – U.S. rail traffic grew 4.2 percent in February thanks in part to a surge in coal shipments.

"The 19.2 percent increase in coal carloads in February 2017 was the highest percentage gain for coal since sometime before 1988 when our current record series began," AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John T. Gray says.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that coal loadings remain depressed.

"While it's an impressive gain, February 2017 was, unfortunately, also the second-worst February in absolute terms for coal since sometime before 1988,” Gray adds. “It's all too representative of the challenges railroads are facing as their markets change.”

Eleven of the 20 commodity groups tracked by the AAR posted gains, the industry trade group reported on Wednesday. These included: coal, up 19.2 percent or 57,589 carloads; crushed stone, gravel, and sand, up 13.1 percent or 10,091 carloads; and primary metal products, up 6.8 percent or 2,357 carloads.

Commodities that saw declines in February 2017 from February 2016 included: petroleum and petroleum products, down 12.4 percent or 5,543 carloads; motor vehicles and parts, down 4.8 percent or 3,746; carloads and metallic ores, down 19.1 percent or 2,793 carloads.

Intermodal was up for the month to 1,068,439 containers and trailers, this 1.8 percent or 19,350 units more than the same month last year.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first 8 weeks of 2017 was 2,040,613 carloads, up 4.8 percent from the same point last year; and 2,089,507 intermodal units, up 0.04 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 8 weeks of 2017 was 4,130,120 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 2.3 percent compared to last year.

Total U.S. weekly rail traffic for the week ending Feb. 25 was 521,451 carloads and intermodal units, up 0.1 percent compared with the same week in 2016.

North American rail volume for the week ending Feb. 25 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads totaled 351,728 carloads, up 4.6 percent compared with the same week last year, and 339,947 intermodal units, down 1.7 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 691,675 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.4 percent. North American rail volume for the first 8 weeks of 2017 was 5,446,850 carloads and intermodal units, up 3 percent compared with 2016.

Canadian railroads reported 78,200 carloads for the week, up 10.3 percent, and 64,428 intermodal units, up 5.2 percent compared with the same week in 2016. For the first 8 weeks of 2017, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 1,113,463 carloads, containers and trailers, up 7.5 percent.

Mexican railroads reported 16,772 carloads for the week, down 2.9 percent compared with the same week last year, and 10,824 intermodal units, down 6.4 percent. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 8 weeks of 2017 was 203,267 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, down 6.9 percent from the same point last year.

The AAR also reported U.S. Class I railroads originated 43,293 carloads of crude oil in the fourth quarter of 2016, down 5,685 carloads or 11.6 percent from the third quarter of 2016 and down 41,632 carloads or 49 percent from the fourth quarter of 2015.
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