Thursday, February 08, 2018

AAR: Rail Carloads Declined YoY, "Best January Ever" for Intermodal

by Bill McBride on 2/08/2018 04:37:00 PM

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

January wasn’t the best start of the year in terms of volume that railroads could hope for, but there’s certainly no reason to panic yet either. Total U.S. carloads were down 3.4%, or 42,431 carloads, in January 2018 from January 2017. The overall decrease was due largely to declines for coal (down 5.8%, or 25,083 carloads), motor vehicles and parts (down 10.1%, or 8,372 carloads), and grain (down 5.8%, or 6,917 carloads). ... Intermodal picked up where it left off last year (when it set a new annual record) with volume in January 2018 up 3.5%, or 44,183 containers and trailers, over January 2017 and marking the best January for intermodal in history. Winter weather negatively impacted rail traffic in January in many areas, but it’s impossible to precisely calculate how much, if any, of January’s decline is weather related.
Rail Traffic Click on graph for larger image.

This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows U.S. average weekly rail carloads (NSA).  Light blue is 2018.

Rail carloads have been weak over the last decade due to the decline in coal shipments.
U.S. railroads originated 1,217,405 carloads in January 2018, down 3.4% (42,431 carloads) from January 2017. It’s the sixth year-over-year monthly decline in the past seven months and the largest percentage decline. Total carloads averaged 243,481 per week in January 2018; since 1988, when our U.S. data begin, only 2016 had a lower weekly average in January. This year, extreme cold and blizzards negatively impacted carloads in January in many parts of the country, though to be fair winter weather is a problem most years. It’s not possible to precisely determine how much of January’s decline might be attributable to the weather.
Rail TrafficThe second graph is for intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers):
Following up on a record-setting 2017, 2018 started well for intermodal. Volume in January 2018 was 1.31 million containers and trailers, up 3.5%, or 44,183 units, over January 2017. Average weekly volume in January 2018 was 262,028 units, the most for a January in history.