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Intermodal Volume Pushed US Rail Traffic Growth in Week 39

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Week 39: US rail freight traffic

The AAR (Association of American Railroads) published its weekly traffic data on October 3. The data pertained to 12 major North American railroads during week 39, which ended on September 29. The rail traffic data is grouped into carload traffic and intermodal units. Intermodal units are expressed in containers and truck trailers.

First, we’ll review US railroad companies’ traffic data. US railroads’ (XLI) total rail traffic volume grew 3.7% YoY (year-over-year) in week 39. These rail carriers moved ~572,000 railcars in the week compared to ~551,500 in week 39 of 2017. Carload traffic expanded 0.5% YoY to ~272,300 units from ~271,000 units. Intermodal volumes jumped 6.8% YoY to ~299,600 units from ~280,500 units.

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Changes in carload commodity groups

Six of the ten carload commodity groups reported a rise compared with week 39 in 2017. These commodities included petroleum and petroleum products, metallic ores and metals, and chemicals. Commodity groups that reported declines compared with the corresponding week in 2017 included nonmetallic minerals, grain, and motor vehicles and parts.

Major Western US railroad Union Pacific (UNP) recorded the highest YoY volume gains of 4.9% in week 39 among all the class I railroads. CSX followed Union Pacific with 4% traffic volume gains. Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) was in the third position with 2.8% gains. Kansas City Southern (KSU), the smallest class I railroad, was in the fourth position with 2.6% gains in week 39.

Total US carload traffic for the first nine months of 2018 was 10.2 million carloads, up 2% YoY from the corresponding period last year. Their intermodal units were 10.8 million containers and trailers, up 6% YoY from last year. Total combined US traffic for the first 39 weeks of 2018 was 21.0 million carloads and intermodal units, up 4% compared to last year.

Canadian and Mexican railcar traffic

In Week 39, Canadian railroads reported ~89,900 carloads, up 2.7% YoY. Their intermodal units were 74,012 containers and trailers, up 1.4% compared with the same week last year. For the first 39 weeks of 2018, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 5.8 million carloads, containers, and trailers, up 3.7%.

Mexican railroads recorded 19,606 carloads in week 39, down 4.6% YoY and 18,694 intermodal units, down 13.7% YoY. Their cumulative volume for the first 39 weeks of 2018 was 1.5 million carloads and intermodal containers and trailers.

In the next section, we’ll focus on BNSF Railway’s rail traffic trends.

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