U.S. year-to-date rail volumes slump

Image courtesy of Unsplash/Benjamin Wagner

Year-to-date rail volumes for every commodity except petroleum and petroleum products slumped last week in the United States, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

Total year-to-date U.S. rail traffic fell 1.8 percent to about 7.2 million units from the same period in 2018, according to AAR data for the week that ended April 6. Of that, carloads were down 3.1 percent at 3.5 million, while intermodal units fell 0.6 percent to 3.7 million.

Declines were across the board for every commodity, with only petroleum and petroleum products posting an increase. Their volumes rose 21.7 percent to 174,177 carloads, and they represented 5 percent of all carloads.

Several Class I railroads will report their first quarter earnings next week, and executives could discuss then why volumes have trended lower so far this year. Weather impacts, including the recent historic floods in the Midwest, uncertainty over U.S. trade relations between China on the one hand and Canada and Mexico on the other, and a slowing U.S. economy have been bandied about as potential reasons for rail’s softening volumes so far this year.

Weekly rail volumes also declined last week. Total rail traffic in the nation fell 2.8 percent to 510,192 units, with carloads falling 3.9 percent to 251,417,  and intermodal units falling 1.6 percent to 258,775.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily. Her transportation background extends to writing about automotive fuels and additives for Hart Energy Publishing and producing summaries on advanced transportation research for a federal government agency. In her spare time, she likes writing travel articles, taking photographs, and singing and dancing. She has a bachelor's degree in music and political science from Barnard College, a master's in journalism from Boston University, and a master's in musical theater from Boston Conservatory.

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