Monday, June 10, 2019

AAR: May Rail Carloads down 2.1% YoY, Intermodal Down 5.9% YoY

by Calculated Risk on 6/10/2019 08:30:00 AM

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

You have to look pretty hard to find good news in May’s rail traffic data, but disappointing news is easy to find. Total U.S. rail carloads were down 2.1% in May 2019 from May 2018, their fourth straight monthly decline. ... Carloads are taking hits from several sides. Flooding in the Midwest has been hindering the operations of railroads and many of their customers for a couple of months. More importantly, heightened economic uncertainty is being made worse by increased trade-related tensions; higher tariffs leading to reductions or disruptions of international trade; and lower industrial and manufacturing output. ... Ongoing trade disputes aren’t helping intermodal. In May, intermodal volume was down 5.9%, thanks in part to the trade disputes and tariffs that have been applied to imports in recent months.
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).  Red is 2019.

Rail carloads have been weak over the last decade due to the decline in coal shipments.
It’s not like the sky is falling (not yet, anyway), but U.S. rail traffic has certainly seen better days. Total U.S. rail carloads in May 2019 were 1.29 million, down 2.1%, or 28,065 carloads, from May 2018. That’s the fourth straight year-over-year monthly decline, something that last happened in late 2017

In 2019 through May, total U.S. carloads were down 2.4%, or 137,995 carloads, from 2018 through May. Since 1988, when our data begin, only 2016 had fewer total carloads for the first five months of the year.
Rail TrafficThe second graph is for intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers):
May was a disappointing month for intermodal. U.S. intermodal originations were down 5.9%, or 82,521 containers and trailers, in May 2019 from May 2018. The 5.9% decline was the largest percentage decline for any month since July 2016 and was the fourth-straight monthly decline for intermodal … The silver lining is that May 2018 was by far the highest-volume May in history for U.S. intermodal, so May 2019 faced a very tough comp and compared to years other than 2018, May 2019 wasn’t so bad.