Friday, January 05, 2018

AAR: Rail Carloads increased, "Best Year Ever" for Intermodal

by Bill McBride on 1/05/2018 05:10:00 PM

From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators. Graphs and excerpts reprinted with permission.

Rail traffic ended 2017 on a positive note. Total U.S. rail carloads in December 2017 were up 2.5% (24,606 carloads) over December 2016, their first year-over-year monthly increase in six months, thanks largely to gains in carloads of crushed stone, sand, and gravel; metallic ores; and chemicals. ... For all of 2017, total carloads were up 2.9%, or 381,266 carloads ... Meanwhile, U.S. intermodal traffic was up 5.3% (53,990 units) in December 2017 over December 2016 and up 3.9% (521,121 units) in 2017 over 2016. 2017 was the best year ever for U.S. intermodal volume.
Rail Traffic Click on graph for larger image.

This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows U.S. average weekly rail carloads (NSA).  Dark blue is 2017.

Rail carloads have been weak over the last decade due to the decline in coal shipments.
U.S. railroads originated 998,168 carloads in December 2017, up 2.5% (24,606 carloads) over December 2016. It’s the first year-over-year monthly increase for total carloads in six months. Total carloads averaged 249,542 per week in December 2017. Since 1988, when our data begin, only 2009, 2014, and 2015 had fewer weekly average carloads in December than December 2017 did. Still, you take what you can get; the carload increase in December was certainly welcome.
Rail TrafficThe second graph is for intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers):
2017 was the best year ever for U.S. intermodal. Originations for the year were 14.01 million containers and trailers, up 3.9%, or 521,121 units, over 2016 and up 2.2%, or 301,172 units, over 2015’s previous record of 13.71 million units. In December, intermodal volume was 1.07 million units, up 5.3%, or 53,980 units, over December 2016. In 2017, containers accounted for 91.0% of U.S. intermodal units, down slightly from 2016’s 91.3%. Eleven of the top 12 U.S. intermodal weeks in history were in 2017.