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            december 12, 2019

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North American total rail traffic down 3.3pc as economy weakens


Total North American rail volume for the week ending August 31, from 12 reporting US, Canadian and Mexican railways, came to 375,177 carloads, down 3.3 per cent year on year, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).
This totalled 366,771 intermodal units, down 3.3 per cent compared with last year. North American rail volume for the first 35 weeks of 2019 was 24,824,719 carloads and intermodal units, down 2.5 per cent compared with 2018.
US railways originated 1,055,386 carloads in August 2019, down 4.6 per cent year on year. US railways also originated 1,089,849 containers and trailers in August 2019, down 5.4 per cent to 61,839 units.
Combined US carload and intermodal originations in August 2019 were 2,145,235, down five per cent, or 112,511 carloads and intermodal units from August 2018.
Canadian railways reported 85,954 carloads for the week, down 1.3 per cent, and 74,292 intermodal units, up 2.2 per cent compared with the same week in 2018.
For the first 35 weeks of 2019, Canadian railways reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 5,311,241 carloads, containers and trailers, up 1.8 per cent.
Mexican railways reported 20,626 carloads for the week, down 0.4 per cent compared with the same week last year, and 19,131 intermodal units, down 0.4 per cent.
Cumulative volume on Mexican railways for the first 35 weeks of 2019 was 1,313,331 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, down 3.3 per cent from the same point last year.
In August 2019, eight of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw carload gains compared with August 2018.
These included: petroleum & petroleum products, up 3,612 carloads or 7.8 per cent; all other carloads, up 3,090 carloads or 13 per cent; and stone, clay & glass products, up 2,567 carloads or 7.5 per cent.
Commodities that saw declines in August 2019 from August 2018 included: coal, down 36,301 carloads or 9.9 per cent; crushed stone, sand & gravel, down 5,751 carloads or 5.4 per cent; and grain, down 5,365 carloads or six per cent.
"While the strength of the overall economy remains unclear, in the last quarter it has become much more evident that the portion of the economy which generates freight - manufacturing and goods trading - has weakened significantly," said AAR vice president John Gray.
"Total US freight carloads have fallen on a year-on-year basis for seven straight months, and that's true even after excluding coal and grain, the major rail commodities least sensitive to overall economic health.
"Intermodal volumes, typically a reliable indicator of consumer spending and intermediate manufacturing demand, have fallen for seven straight months. We had a similar pattern in 2016, when rail traffic was weak and the overall economy wobbled but didn't fall down," said Mr Gray.

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