Year-to-date North American rail volumes continued their downward trend for the week ending August 17, according to data from the Association of American Railroads.
For the first 33 weeks of the year, year-to-date North Amercan rail traffic fell 2.4 percent to 23.36 million carloads and intermodal units, compared with the same period in 2018. Of that total, North American carloads fell 2.1 percent to 11.72 million carloads, while intermodal units fell 2.7 percent to 11.64 million intermodal trailers and containers.
U.S. and Mexican rail volumes dragged overall totals lower, while year-to-date Canadian rail volumes were higher year-over-year.
Looking at U.S. volumes, which constitute about 73 percent of North American volumes, overall U.S. rail traffic year-to-date was down 3.5 percent to 17.13 million carloads and intermodal units. Of that, U.S. carloads were down 3.3 percent to 8.34 million carloads, compared with the same period in 2018, while U.S. intermodal units fell 3.8 percent to 8.78 million intermodal containers and trailers.
On a weekly basis, U.S. rail volumes were still down compared with the same week in 2018. Total traffic fell 5.2 percent to 537,617 carloads and intermodal units, with carloads shedding 4.9 percent to 264,564 carloads and intermodal units decreasing 5.4 percent to 273,053 units.
Despite the downward trend in year-over-year volumes, U.S. rail carloads were actually up by 1.29 percent on a week-to-week comparison. Of that, coal volumes on a week-to-week basis were up by 10.55 percent amid increased demand for electricity, which in turn was driven in part by hot weather in certain regions of the U.S (see video: https://www.freightwaves.com/news/stormy-northeast-sizzling-southwest-forecast-video).
While it’s unclear where U.S. rail volumes and even rail demand might be headed for the remainder of the year, some recent indicators suggest a downward trend, at least for some commodities. Dry bulk commodities such as grain and frac sand are facing downward pressure this fall, which in turn is contributing to increased rates for railcar storage, while Cass Information Systems said freight data in July supported a view that suggested an economic contraction is in sight.