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Week 41: Affirmed Slow Growth Trend in US Rail Traffic Volumes

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Week 41: US rail freight traffic

On October 17, the AAR (Association of American Railroads) published its weekly traffic data for Week 41, which ended on October 13. There are 12 major North American railroads that submit weekly data to the AAR. The weekly rail data are divided into carload traffic and intermodal units. Intermodal units are expressed in containers and truck trailers.

In this series, we’ll first go through the weekly traffic trends of US railroad companies. In Week 41, US railroads’ (XLI) total rail traffic volume grew 1.7% YoY (year-over-year). Rail carriers moved ~549,800 railcars in the week compared to ~540,400 in Week 41 of 2017. Carload traffic rose 3% YoY to ~263,800 units from ~262,700 units. Intermodal traffic grew 3% YoY to ~286,000 units, from ~277,600 units.

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Changes in carload commodity groups

Seven of the ten carload commodity groups rose in Week 41 compared to the same week in 2017. They included petroleum and petroleum products, metallic ores and metals, and miscellaneous carloads. Commodity groups that fell compared to the corresponding week last year were nonmetallic minerals, chemicals, and forest products.

BNSF Railway (BRK.B), the largest US freight rail by volume, reported the highest YoY rail traffic volume gains of 3% in Week 41 among all Class I railroads. BNSF was followed by Canadian National Railway (CNI) with 2% rail traffic volume gains. CNI’s archrival Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) was third with 1.9% gains. Union Pacific (UNP) was fourth with 1.84% gains.

For the first 41 weeks of 2018, US railroads reported a cumulative volume of 10.7 million carloads, up 1.9% from the same week last year. Their intermodal volume was 11.4 million containers and trailers, up 5.8% from last year. Combined US traffic for the first 41 weeks of 2018 was 22.1 million carloads and intermodal units, up 3.9% from last year.

Canadian and Mexican railcar traffic

Canadian railroads reported a 6.3% YoY rise in carload traffic to ~85,200 carloads in Week 41. Their intermodal traffic declined 2.3% YoY to ~69,800 containers and trailers. For the first 41 weeks, Canadian railroads posted cumulative rail traffic growth of 3.6% YoY, totaling 6.1 million carloads, containers, and trailers.

Mexican rail carriers moved 20,200 carloads in Week 41, down 4% YoY, and 19,500 intermodal units, down 5.9% YoY. Their cumulative volume for the first 41 weeks was 1.58 million carloads and intermodal containers and trailers.

Let’s start our weekly rail traffic series with a review of BNSF Railway’s rail traffic.

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