Friday, January 04, 2019

AAR: December Rail Carloads up 2.9% YoY, Intermodal Up 5.0% YoY

by Bill McBride on 1/04/2019 06:11:00 PM

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

U.S. freight rail traffic in December and the full year 2018 was mixed, but for the most part was positive. Intermodal finished the year strong, rising 5.0% in December 2018. The first and second weeks of December (weeks 49 and 50 of the year) were the two highest-volume intermodal months in history, exceeding 300,000 units in a single week for the first time. Intermodal set a new annual record in 2018: total volume was 14.47 million containers and trailers, up 5.5%, or 751,217 units, over 2017. Total carloads, meanwhile, rose 2.9% in December 2018 over December 2017, their 9th year-over-year increase in 2018. For the full year, total carloads were up 1.8%, or 238,857 carloads.
emphasis added
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 (excluding the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads) originated 1.022 million carloads in December 2018, up 2.9%, or 29,139 carloads, over December 2017. December was the ninth yearover- year monthly increase for total carloads in 2018 and reversed a slight decline in November. Total carloads averaged 255,495 per week in December 2018, the most for December since 2014.
Rail TrafficThe second graph is for intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers):
U.S. railroads originated 1.10 million containers and trailers in December 2018, up 5.0% over December 2017. Weekly average intermodal volume in December 2018 was 274,029, easily the highest weekly average for December for intermodal in history. In fact, the first and second weeks of December 2018 (weeks 49 and 50 of the year) were the highest volume intermodal weeks in history for U.S. railroads, regardless of month, with 303,225 and 301,407 intermodal units originated, respectively. That’s the first time ever that intermodal originations exceeded 300,000 in a single week. So much for intermodal peaking in September or October. The top 10 intermodal weeks in history were all in 2018, as were nine of the top ten intermodal months
2018 was another record year for intermodal traffic.