U.S. carload and intermodal volumes are both solid in November, reports AAR

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United States rail carload and intermodal volumes remained on solid footing in November, according to data issued this week by the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

Carloads were essentially flat, falling 0.9%, or 11,442 carloads, annually to 1,307,521. The AAR said that 12 of the 20 commodity groups it tracks were up annually in November, including crushed stone, sand & gravel, up 16,402 carloads or 14.8 percent; metallic ores, up 5,810 carloads or 22.8 percent; and chemicals, up 5,465 carloads or 3.6 percent. Commodities that saw declines in November 2017 from November 2016 included: coal, down 22,560 carloads or 5 percent; grain, down 16,311 carloads or 12.7 percent; and petroleum & petroleum products, down 3,877 carloads or 7.2 percent.

When excluding coal, carloads were up 11,118 carloads, or 1.3%, in November 2017 from November 2016, said the AAR. And excluding coal and grain, carloads were up 27,429 carloads, or 3.7%.

Intermodal containers and trailers headed up 3.8% annually, or 50,029 units, to 1,369,160, with the AAR noting that intermodal volume is still on track to set a new annual record this year, coupled with last week marking the single best volume intermodal week ever recorded, as per AAR data, with myriad weekly records set in 2017.

“U.S. rail carload traffic in November, like in October, had both a glass-is-half-empty and a glass-is-half-full feel to it,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray in a statement.  “It’s half empty because total carloads were down for the month, and railroads of course are concerned with their total level of business.  However, the commodities that were the main reason for the decline in total carloads in November — coal, grain, and petroleum products — saw declines for reasons that don’t have much to do with the state of the economy.  So, the half-full feel comes from the fact that many traffic categories that are more sensitive to the economy did relatively well in November, which is a good sign for the economy going forward.  The fact that intermodal grew solidly in November and will almost certainly set a new annual record in 2017 is a good sign as well.”

Tony Hatch, principal of ABH Consulting, said at last week’s RailTrends conference, which he hosts with Progressive Railroading magazine, that recent railroad results are showing what he called “a return to trend” for both intermodal and coal, coupled with a slowdown in annual volume differences, due to the fact that the first half of 2017 was well above bullish expectations, while the second half of the year is up against more difficult annual comparisons.

For the week ending December 2, U.S. rail carloads were up 3.5% annually at 280,351 carloads, and intermodal rose 4.9% to 292,443 containers and trailers.

On a year-to-date basis through November, U.S. carloads are up 2.9%, or 356,660 carloads, to 12,479,958. Intermodal units are up 3.7%, or 467,141 containers and trailers, to 12,945,869. 

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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