US Freight Rail Traffic: Carloads Surged while Intermodal Slumped



US freight rail traffic

Every week, the AAR (Association of American Railroads) publishes North American freight rail data for the previous week. The latest figures are for the week ended March 4, 2017, or the eighth week of the year. If you want to compare this week’s freight volume data with the previous week’s, check out Market Realist’s US Freight Traffic Takes the High Rail: Week Ended February 25.

During the ninth week of 2017, US rail traffic (BRK-B) rose a marginal ~2% YoY (year-over-year) to nearly 522,000 railcars as compared to over 512,000 railcars in the week ended March 5, 2016.

US carloads rose 6.3% YoY to ~263,000 railcars as compared to 247,000 plus railcars in the week ended March 4, 2017. However, intermodal volumes fell 2.3% to ~259,000 units, down from 265,000 units during the corresponding period last year.

Data from first nine weeks

Total US carload traffic for the first nine weeks of 2017 was ~2.3 million carloads, up 5% from the same point last year. However, intermodal traffic was down slightly by 0.2% in percentage terms from levels in 2016.

The total combined US traffic for the first nine weeks of 2017 reached more than 4.6 million carloads and intermodal units, representing a rise of 2.3% as compared to this time last year.

Coal played a vital role

According to AAR senior official, John Gray, “The 19.2% increase in coal carloads in February 2017 was the highest percentage gain for coal since sometime before 1988 when our current record series began.” Gray added, “While it’s an impressive gain, February 2017 was, unfortunately, also the second worst February in absolute terms for coal since sometime before 1988. It’s all too representative of the challenges railroads are facing as their markets change.”

Canadian and Mexican rail traffic

Canadian rail traffic (CNI) rose 12.8% YoY to just over 80,500 railcars, while intermodal traffic rose 4.6%, settling at ~61,000 units. Mexican railroads carried on the poor performance (KSU) in the ninth week as well. Carloads fell 0.4% during the week ended March 4, 2017, though Mexican intermodal traffic expanded by 0.6% YoY in the ninth week.

Investors interested in ETFs could opt for the Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (VIG). All US Class I railroads (NSC) are included in VIG’s portfolio.

Continue to the next part for a look at Norfolk Southern’s carloads for the week ended March 4, 2017.

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