March U.S. Rail Traffic Increases 5.5 Percent

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has reported that total U.S. rail traffic for March 2017 was 2,581,662 carloads and intermodal units, up 5.5 percent or 134,363 carloads and intermodal units compared with March 2016.

March 2017, U.S. carload originations totaled 1,283,489, an increase of 7.3 percent, or 87,183 carloads, compared to March of last year. Excluding coal, carloads for the month were up 2.7 percent or 23,337 carloads compared to March 2016.

U.S. railroads also originated 1,298,173 containers and trailers in March 2017, up 3.8 percent or 47,180 units from the same month last year.

In March, 13 of the 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw increases last month compared with March of 2016. Commodities showing the largest increases included coal, up 19 percent, or 63,846 carloads; crushed stone, gravel, and sand, up 12.5 percent, or 13,154 carloads; and grain, up 10.6 percent, or 11,336 carloads.

Petroleum and petroleum products showed the largest decrease in the commodity groups, with a drop of 8.1 percent, or 4,382 carloads, and motor vehicles and parts declined 5.3 percent, or 4,999 carloads.

“Railroading is not for the faint of heart, as markets are continually changing and railroads have to adapt to changing circumstances,” remarked AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John T. Gray. "Despite recent increases, in absolute terms rail coal volumes are much lower than they were even a few years ago, and rail crude oil volumes are roughly half what they were a couple of years ago. On the other hand, this was the best March ever for carloads of crushed stone, sand, and gravel, and it was the best March for grain since 2008."

"This was the best first quarter ever for U.S. railroad intermodal volume," added Gray. "Roughly half of intermodal is international trade, but it's not just intermodal that's associated with international trade. At least 42 percent of the carloads and intermodal units our nation's railroads carry, and more than 35 percent of rail revenue, are directly associated with international trade. Approximately 50,000 rail jobs, worth over $5.5 billion in annual wages and benefits, depend directly on international trade."

For the week ending April 1, 2017, an increase of 7.2 percent was reported in total U.S. rail traffic compared with the same week in 2016. Carloads and intermodal units totaled 527,665.

For the week, there were 259,720 carloads, an increase of 9.1 percent compared with the same week in 2016, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 267,945 containers and trailers, up 5.5 percent compared to 2016.