U.S. Rail Freight Traffic Up 3.4% in 2017

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has reported U.S. rail freight traffic for the week ending December 30, 2017, as well as volumes for December 2017 and all of 2017.

U.S. railroads originated 998,168 carloads in December 2017, up 2.5%, or 24,606 carloads, from December 2016. U.S. railroads also originated 1,065,965 containers and trailers in December 2017, up 5.3%, or 53,980 units, from the same month last year. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in December 2017 were 2,064,133, up 4%, or 78,586 carloads and intermodal units from December 2016.

Utah Rail Infrastructure

© Union Pacific

AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray, said:

Rail traffic finished 2017 on a positive note. In December, total carloads were up for the first time in six months, and 14 of the 20 carload categories we track saw year-over-year gains – the most for any month in almost three years. Meanwhile, intermodal volume was up for the 11th straight month and set a new annual record, breaking the previous mark set in 2015.

December 2017 Freight Traffic

In December 2017, 14 of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw carload gains compared with December 2016. These included: crushed stone, sand & gravel, up 15,632 carloads or 23.1%; metallic ores, up 6,875 carloads or 35.2%; and chemicals, up 4,277 carloads or 3.5%. Commodities that saw declines in December 2017 from December 2016 included: grain, down 5,542 carloads or 6.1%; motor vehicles & parts, down 2,625 carloads or 4.1%; and nonmetallic minerals, down 1,424 carloads or 8.9%.

Gray added:

Rail traffic is a useful gauge of the state of the economy, and it shows that the economy’s momentum strengthened in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Coal, grain, and petroleum products are not nearly as GDP-dependent as most other categories of rail traffic. If you exclude them, U.S. rail carloads were up 5.2% in the fourth quarter of 2017, their biggest quarterly percentage gain in more than three years. Railroads are well positioned to provide the safe, efficient and cost-effective service our economy will need if it is to continue to grow in the months and years ahead.

Excluding coal, carloads were up 23,290 carloads, or 3.6%, in December 2017 from December 2016. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were up 28,832 carloads, or 5.2%.

Total Rail Freight Traffic for 2017

Total U.S. carload traffic for 2017 was 13,478,126 carloads, up 2.9%, or 381,266 carloads, from the same period in 2016; and 14,011,834 intermodal units, up 3.9%, or 521,121 containers and trailers, from 2016.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the full year of 2017 was 27,489,960 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 3.4% compared to last year.

Original article © AAR.

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