U.S. rail carload and intermodal volumes are mixed in January, says AAR

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United States rail carload and intermodal volumes in January were mixed, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported this week.

Carloads dropped 3.4%, or 42,431 carloads, annually to 1,217,405. Eight of the the 20 carload commodity groups tracked by the AAR were up annually, including: crushed stone, sand & gravel, up 3,498 carloads or 3.8%; petroleum & petroleum products, up 3,196 carloads or 6.4%; and lumber & wood products, up 1,167 carloads or 8.0%. And commodities that saw declines in January included: coal, down 25,083 carloads or 5.8%; motor vehicles & parts, down 8,372 carloads or 10.1%; and grain, down 6,917 carloads or 5.8%.​ AAR added that when excluding coal, January carloads were down 17,348 carloads, or 2.1% annually, and excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 10,431 carloads, or 1.5%.

This marked the fourth decline in the last five months for coal, the 13th consecutive monthly decline for motor vehicles, and the seventh straight decline for coal, according to AAR data. On a more positive note, carloads of crushed stone, sand, and gravel headed up for the 13th straight month, and carloads of petroleum and petroleum products increased for the second month in a a row after 30 straight months of declines. Total average U.S. carloads per week in January, at 243,481, were down 3.4% annually.

Intermodal containers and trailers saw a 3.5%, or 44,183 units, annual gain to 1,310,141. This tally represents the best January ever for intermodal volumes, AAR said. Total average U.S. intermodal units per week were up 3.5% at 262,028 units.

“Recent stock market gyrations remind all of us that, when it comes to things related to the economy, conditions can change quickly.  For now, though, rail volumes are not flashing strong warning signs,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray in a statement.  “In January, intermodal picked up where it left off last year, when it set a new annual record, and several carload categories showed gains for the month.  To be sure, we could do without January’s sharp fall in motor vehicle and coal carloads, among others, but we’re hopeful that the basic economy remains on a firm footing and that the recent turmoil in the markets simply represents an adjustment to potential interest rate changes.”

For the week ending February 3, U.S. carloads dropped 1.4% annually to 265,157, and intermodal containers and trailers rose 6.3% to 282,836.

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