U.S. rail volumes are still falling

U.S. rail volumes trended downward again for the week ending June 15, with weekly volumes falling over 5 percent and year-to-date volumes declining nearly 3 percent, according to the latest data from the Association of American Railroads.

U.S. rail operations originated 527,989 carloads and intermodal units, down 5.4 percent from the same week in 2018. Of that, U.S. carloads totaled 257,385, down 4.6 percent, while intermodal containers and trailers fell 6.2 percent to 270,604.

On a year-to-date basis, U.S. rail volumes fell 2.8 percent to 12.4 million carloads and intermodal units. Of that, U.S. rail operations originated 6 million carloads and 6.4 million intermodal containers and trailers. Both segments were also down 2.8 percent.

The decline in U.S. rail volumes comes as the manufacturing sector still faces weakened export demand and lackluster business investment prospects. But gains in the retail sector in May, including an increase in retail spending for the third consecutive month, suggest the possibility that some sectors of the U.S. economy could be stabilizing.

Meanwhile, flooding conditions in the Midwest continue to dampen rail volumes (see for the latest update). The flooding has contributed to lower volumes for coal, which represents nearly one-third of weekly U.S. carload volume.

BNSF (NYSE: BRK) said on June 14 that portions of its network in Iowa and Missouri were flooded, with four subdivisions partially or fully out of service because of high water, track damage or other flood-related issues. The rail company said last week that it couldn’t provide an estimated date for when its Napier subdivision and three other subdivisions adjacent to the Mississippi River in Missouri would reopen.

Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC) has restored service to and from Kansas City, although it warned of congestion and delays, according to a June 17 notice.

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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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