AAR: Rail Carloads Declined YoY, Best February Ever for Intermodal

From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators. Graphs and excerpts reprinted with permission.

Total U.S. rail carloads were down 0.3% (2,753 carloads) in February 2018 from February 2017. In what unfortunately seems to have become a pattern, the decline in overall carloads in February was due mainly to declines for coal (down 1.7%, or 5,801 carloads), grain (down 5.3%, or 4,712 carloads), and motor vehicles and parts (down 4.5%, or 3,283 carloads). … February was another great month for intermodal: weekly average volume was 276,000 containers and trailers, the second highest weekly average for any month in history (behind only October 2017) and easily the highest ever for February.

Rail Traffic Click on graph for larger image.

This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows U.S. average weekly rail carloads (NSA).  Light blue is 2018.

Rail carloads have been weak over the last decade due to the decline in coal shipments.

Total U.S. rail carloads were down 0.3%, or 2,753 carloads, in February 2018 from February 2017. It’s a decline, but it’s a big improvement from January’s 3.4% decline. Total carloads averaged 257,035 per week in February 2018; since 1988, when our U.S. data begin, only 2016 had a lower weekly average in February. For the first two months of 2018, total carloads were down 2.0%, or 45,184 carloads, to 2.245 million, the lowest January-February total since 1988 other than 2016.

Rail TrafficThe second graph is for intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers):

In terms of average weekly volume, February 2018 was the second best month in history for U.S. railroads. Total originations in February 2018 were 1,104,001, up 6.9%, or 70,970 containers and trailers, over February 2017. Weekly average intermodal originations in February 2018 were 276,000. Only October 2017 (279,853 units) was higher. Since February is not typically one of the highest volume months of the year for intermodal, it’s reasonable to expect new intermodal records to be set in the months ahead, especially this coming fall.