U.S. railroads see surge in grain shipments in August

by Eric Schroeder
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Train carrying grains
Total up nearly 25% from August 2015.

WASHINGTON — Combined U.S. carload and intermodal volumes totaled 2,675,263 in August, down 5.7%, or 162,230 carloads and intermodal units, from August 2015. The decline in overall volume came despite a sharp year-over-year gain in shipments of grain.

In August 2016, 8 of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with August 2015, including grain shipments, which totaled 23,857 carloads, up 24.7% from the same period a year ago. Other gains were noted in waste and nonferrous scrap, up 25.4%, or 4,182 carloads; and chemicals, up 1.1%, or 1,699 carloads. Commodities that saw declines in August 2016 from August 2015 included: coal, down 16.1%, or 86,638 carloads; petroleum and petroleum products, down 25.1%, or 17,650 carloads; and crushed stone, gravel and sand, down 6.9%, or 8,913 carloads.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first 35 weeks of 2016 was 8,668,572 carloads, down 11.1%, or 1,081,450 carloads, while intermodal containers and trailers were 9,042,678 units, down 3.1%, or 288,427 containers and trailers, when compared to the same period in 2015. For the first eight months of 2016, total rail traffic volume in the United States was 17,711,250 carloads and intermodal units, down 7.2%, or 1,369,877 carloads and intermodal units, from the same point last year.

“While August showed improvements in some categories, the big story in terms of rail traffic last month was the continuing surge in carloads of grain,” said John T. Gray, senior vice-president of policy and economics at the AAR. “Railroads, along with barges and trucks, are a critical part of the grain logistical chain. The fact that this chain generally functions smoothly is a testament to the tremendous efforts that transportation providers, including railroads, put forth in support of their grain-related customers.”

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