Higher coal, chemicals rail volumes lift U.S. carloads

Image courtesy of Benjamin Wagner/Unsplash

Higher coal and chemicals volumes drove U.S. carloads upward on a weekly basis for the first time since late February, according to the latest data from the Association of American Railroads (AAR). But despite that weekly gain for U.S. carloads, overall U.S. rail traffic still softened.

AAR breaks down rail traffic into two main categories. One is intermodal units. The second category covers carloads that consist of commodities such as grain, petroleum products, coal, metals and forest products. These two categories added together make up total rail traffic.

U.S. carloads totaled 260,800 for the week ending April 13, a 1 percent gain compared with the same period in 2018, according to AAR.

But despite this weekly gain, overall U.S. rail traffic fell 1.2 percent to 528,167. This total consists of carloads and intermodal units. U.S. intermodal units were down 3.2 percent at 267,367 units amid a competitive trucking market.

Within the carload category, three sectors posted weekly gains. Chemicals carloads rose 1.2 percent to 32,355, while coal carloads were up 8.3 percent to 82,065. These volumes represented 12 percent and 31 percent, respectively, of U.S. carloads.

Carloads for petroleum and petroleum products were also higher on a weekly basis, rising nearly 39 percent to 13,387 and representing 5 percent of U.S. carload volume.

Year-to-date U.S. traffic still down

On a year-to-date basis, 2019 rail volumes continued their descent. For the first 15 weeks of this year, total U.S. rail traffic was down 1.8 percent to 7.7 million carloads and intermodal units, compared to the same period in 2018. Of that total, U.S. carloads fell 2.8 percent to 3.7 million, while U.S. intermodal units fell 0.8 percent to 4 million.

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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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