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(Source: Progressive Railroading 02/06/2020)

U.S. railroads hauled 2,410,813 carloads and intermodal units in January, down 5.6 percent compared with traffic hauled in January 2019, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

The combined number of carloads last month fell 5.9 percent to 1,165,733 units, while the number of intermodal containers and trailers dipped 5.4 percent to 1,245,080 containers and trailers versus the same month last year.

“U.S. rail volumes fell again in January, reflecting the continued softness in manufacturing and global economic weakness made worse by trade uncertainties,” said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray in a press release.

Still, January’s traffic trends offered “glimmers of hope,” Gray said. First, nine of the 20 carload commodity categories that AAR follows on a monthly basis posted increases — the most categories to post increases in a year, he said. Those categories included chemicals, up 3,276 carloads or 2.1 percent; all other carloads, up 2,558 carloads or 9.2 percent; and grain mill products, up 1,583 carloads or 3.6 percent.

Second, several other commodities logged declines last month “that were less pronounced than they’ve been in recent months,” Gray said.

Commodities that reflected volume decreases included coal, down 55,882 carloads or 13.8 percent; grain, down 12,908 carloads or 11.6 percent; and crushed stone, sand and gravel, down 4,973 carloads or 5.3 percent.

“It’s too early to say if the worst is behind us, but railroads are hopeful that 2020 will see an improved business climate and rising volumes across much of their traffic base,” Gray said.

Excluding coal, the number of carloads slipped 2.1 percent to 17,228 units during the month. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 4,320 carloads, or 0.6 percent.

Meanwhile, U.S. freight-rail traffic climbed 2.4 percent to 510,161 carloads and intermodal units during the week ending Feb. 1. Railroads hauled 241,339 carloads, down 0.6 percent, and 268,822 containers and trailers, up 5.2 percent.

Canadian railroads reported 84,949 carloads for the week, up 10.6 percent, and 73,106 intermodal units, up 18 percent. Mexican railroads posted 20,550 carloads for the week, up 11.4 percent, and 20,741 intermodal units, up 70.1 percent.

Total combined traffic reported by 12 North American railroads for the week ending Feb. 1 was 709,507 carloads and intermodal units, up 6.2 percent.

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