U.S. rail volumes fell again for the week ended May 18, while Canadian volumes grew, according to the latest data from the Association of American Railroads.
U.S. rail operations originated 536,358 carloads and intermodal units for the week ended May 18, which was a decrease of 1.8 percent from the same period in 2018. But U.S. carloads were actually up this week: they rose 2.2 percent to 267,006 carloads.
Yet despite the carload uptick, a 5.5 percent decline in U.S. intermodal volumes drove total U.S. volumes lower. U.S intermodal units totaled 269,552 for the week.
On a year-to-date basis, total U.S. rail volumes equaled 10.37 million carloads and intermodal units, a 2 percent drop from the same period in 2018.
While U.S. rail volumes fell, Canadian rail volumes rose again on both a weekly and year-to-date basis. Weekly Canadian volumes consisted of 155,470 carloads and intermodal units, a 0.6 percent increase from the same week in 2018. Meanwhile, year-to-date Canadian volumes totaled nearly 3 million carloads and intermodal units, which is 2.3 percent higher than the same period last year.
The theme of higher U.S. carloads but lower intermodal volumes was also expressed by CSX (NYSE: CSX) this week. At an investor conference on May 22 sponsored by Wolfe Research, CSX executive vice president of sales and marketing Mark Wallace said CSX’s carloads are actually up by 3 percent year-to-date, although its intermodal volume is down.
The lower intermodal volume can be attributed to several factors, Wallace said. Lane rationalizations is one, he said. Lane rationalizations led to a 7 percent drop in intermodal volumes in December 2017, a 3 percent decline in October 2018 and then a 5 percent drop in January.
Winter weather impacts, bidding season and the Chinese New Year also created a lot of “confusion” in first quarter volumes, Wallace said. CSX expects volumes to see an uptick in the back half of this year, he said.