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US Rail Traffic Saw Impressive Growth in the Last Week of 2018


Jan. 7 2019, Published 9:31 a.m. ET

US rail traffic

Major US railroad companies ended 2018 on a strong note, reporting robust freight traffic growth in the last week of the year. US freight rail traffic grew 5.1% in the week that ended on December 29 (Week 52), according to the latest report by the AAR (Association of American Railroads), which came out on January 3.

The AAR compiles weekly rail data received from 12 major US, Mexican, and Canadian railroad companies. The weekly rail traffic figures are reported under two categories: carload traffic and intermodal units.

During the week, railroad companies hauled 411,676 railcars. Carload traffic grew 8.5% YoY (year-over-year) to 210,333 units from 193,855 units. Intermodal traffic grew 1.8% YoY to 201,343 units from 197,783 units.

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Eight out of ten carload commodity groups reported increases in Week 52 compared to Week 52 in 2017. These commodity groups included grain, petroleum and petroleum products, and coal carloads. The commodity groups that fell compared to the same week in 2017 included forest products and miscellaneous carloads.

For the 12 months of 2018, US railroad companies reported cumulative volumes of more than 13.6 million carloads—up 1.8% from the same period of the previous year. Intermodal units totaled 14.5 million containers and trailers, up 5.5% from the previous year. Combined US traffic for 2018 increased 3.7% YoY to more than 28.1 million carloads and intermodal units compared to the previous year.

Canadian and Mexican railcar traffic

Canadian railroad companies reported 18% YoY growth in carload traffic to 71,380 units in Week 52. Intermodal traffic rose 9% YoY to 53,354 containers and trailers. For the 12 months of 2018, Canadian railroad companies posted cumulative rail traffic growth of 4% YoY, which amounted to 7.9 million carloads, containers, and trailers.

The downtrend in Mexican railroad companies continued in Week 52. These companies carried 14,834 carloads, down 10.8% YoY, and 12,881 intermodal units, down 8.2% YoY, in Week 52. The cumulative traffic for the year was ~2 million carloads, intermodal containers, and trailers.

Top gainers and losers

In Week 52, all major Class I railroad companies (IYT) registered YoY growth in their rail traffic. Two Canadian railroad companies, Canadian National Railway (CNI) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP), topped the list with YoY rail traffic gains of 13.5% and 12.3%, respectively. Norfolk Southern (NSC), BNSF Railway, CSX (CSX), Union Pacific (UNP), and Kansas City Southern (KSU) followed with YoY gains of 11%, 6.8%, 6.2%, 5.6%, and 0.3%, respectively.

Next, we’ll discuss Canadian National’s rail traffic.


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