AAR: Total traffic rose in 2017; Intermodal breaks all-time record

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Association of American Railroads
Association of American Railroads
WASHINGTON — The Association of American Railroads today reported U.S. rail traffic for the week ending Dec. 30, 2017, as well as volumes for December 2017 and all of 2017.

U.S. railroads originated 998,168 carloads in December 2017, up 2.5 percent, or 24,606 carloads, from December 2016. U.S. railroads also originated 1,065,965 containers and trailers in December 2017, up 5.3 percent, or 53,980 units, from the same month last year. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in December 2017 were 2,064,133, up 4 percent, or 78,586 carloads and intermodal units from December 2016.

“Rail traffic finished 2017 on a positive note,” says AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “In December, total carloads were up for the first time in six months, and 14 of the 20 carload categories we track saw year-over-year gains — the most for any month in almost three years. Meanwhile, intermodal volume was up for the 11th straight month and set a new annual record, breaking the previous mark set in 2015.”

In December 2017, 14 of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw carload gains compared with December 2016. These included: crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 15,632 carloads or 23.1 percent; metallic ores, up 6,875 carloads or 35.2 percent; and chemicals, up 4,277 carloads or 3.5 percent. Commodities that saw declines in December 2017 from December 2016 included: grain, down 5,542 carloads or 6.1 percent; motor vehicles & parts, down 2,625 carloads or 4.1 percent; and nonmetallic minerals, down 1,424 carloads or 8.9 percent.

“Rail traffic is a useful gauge of the state of the economy, and it shows that the economy’s momentum strengthened in the fourth quarter of 2017,” Gray says. “Coal, grain, and petroleum products are not nearly as [gross domestic product]-dependent as most other categories of rail traffic. If you exclude them, U.S. rail carloads were up 5.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, their biggest quarterly percentage gain in more than three years. Railroads are well positioned to provide the safe, efficient and cost-effective service our economy will need if it is to continue to grow in the months and years ahead.”

Excluding coal, carloads were up 23,290 carloads, or 3.6 percent, in December 2017 from December 2016. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were up 28,832 carloads, or 5.2 percent.

Total U.S. carload traffic for 2017 was 13,478,126 carloads, up 2.9 percent, or 381,266 carloads, from the same period in 2016; and 14,011,834 intermodal units, up 3.9 percent, or 521,121 containers and trailers, from 2016.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the full year of 2017 was 27,489,960 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 3.4 percent compared to last year.

Week Ending December 30, 2017

Total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 397,032 carloads and intermodal units, down 6.8 percent compared with the same week in 2016.

Total carloads for the week ending Dec. 30, 2017, were 194,680 carloads, down 9.8 percent compared with the same week in 2016, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 202,352 containers and trailers, down 3.7 percent compared to the same week in 2016.

None of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2016. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2016 included coal, down 6,581 carloads, to 62,348; grain, down 3,839 carloads, to 15,713; and chemicals, down 2,448 carloads, to 27,944.

North American rail volume for the week ending Dec. 30, 2017, on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 268,140 carloads, down 9.4 percent compared with the same week last year, and 259,430 intermodal units, down 1.6 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 527,570 carloads and intermodal units, down 5.7 percent. North American rail volume for the full year of 2017 was 36,488,013 carloads and intermodal units, up 4.8 percent compared with 2016.

Canadian railroads reported 60,664 carloads for the week, down 11.4 percent, and 49,109 intermodal units, up 6.6 percent compared with the same week in 2016. For the full year of 2017, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 7,570,747 carloads, containers and trailers, up 10.6 percent.

Mexican railroads reported 12,796 carloads for the week, up 10.2 percent compared with the same week last year, and 7,969 intermodal units, up 5.9 percent. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the full year of 2017 was 1,427,306 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 2 percent from the same point last year.
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