United States rail carload and intermodal volumes declined on an annual basis in 2019, according to data issued today by the Association of American Railroads (AAR).
Coming off of a very strong 2018, 2019 U.S. rail carloads decreased 4.9%, or 668,075 carloads, to 12,992,404, compared to 2018’s 13,640,641, which was up 1.8% over 2017.
Intermodal containers and trailers, were down 5.1%, or 740,240 units, to 13,732,570. This annual decline followed two straight years of U.S. intermodal volume records. 2018 and 2017 came in at 13,640,641 units and 14,011,834, respectively, with 2019 now the second highest year on record.
“No question, 2019 was a challenging year for rail traffic, thanks mainly to the macroeconomy and continued years-long changes in energy markets,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray in a statement. “Trade disputes and the general economic uncertainty they spawned harmed rail-served industries much more than the overall economy. With recent progress on USMCA and in the China trade talks, railroads are hopeful that these lingering issues will be resolved in 2020 and create the certainty rail customers need to invest.”
Gray added that coal was by far the biggest source of U.S. rail carload decline in 2019, falling 9.2%— more than 405,000 carloads — from 2018, adding that coal carloads in 2019 were their lowest in decades and were 45% lower than their 2006 peak. And when excluding coal, carloads in 2019 were down 2.8%.
“Despite intermodal declines compared to 2018, 2019 was the second highest year for U.S. rail intermodal in history,” Gray said. “Once trade disputes are settled and operational changes aimed at improving network efficiency are fully implemented, railroads anticipate intermodal growth will return and stand ready to meet the demands of rail customers and the U.S. economy.”
For the month of December, U.S. carloads, were down 9.2%, or 93,788 carloads, to 928,102.
AAR said that six of the 20 carload commodities it tracks, were up annually, including: all other carloads, up 1,510 carloads or 6.7 percent; petroleum & petroleum products, up 814 carloads or 1.6 percent; and primary forest products, up 631 carloads or 16.5 percent. Commodities that saw declines in December 2019 from December 2018 included: coal, down 64,932 carloads or 19 percent; grain, down 6,846 carloads or 7.8 percent; and crushed stone, sand & gravel, down 6,395 carloads or 8.4 percent.
Excluding coal, carloads were down 28,856 carloads, or 4.2 percent, in December 2019 from December 2018. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 22,010 carloads, or 3.7 percent.
December intermodal volume, at 990,934 was down 9.6%, or 105,239 units.
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