- Rail volumes dipped in February after rallying in January, and the cause is unclear, according to Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics at The Association of American Railroads (AAR) John T. Gray.
- Total rail volume for January and February combined was down 0.3% year-over-year, with most of that drop attributable to February's volume, which fell 1.8% from the previous month.
- Intermodal shipments, though not immune to the forces that stifle rail traffic, are proving to be less susceptible, even as their prolific rise of 2018 subsides. Intermodal volume in February decreased by 0.9% while carloads decreased by 2.7% year over year.
One month ago, Gray was confident that the overall health of the economy was not to blame for declines in certain rail volume categories, stating that volume fluctuations "don’t reflect weakness in the economy.” After all, total volume was up, along with both intermodal and carload numbers.
But by the end of February, volumes dropped below December's slip, and Gray changed his tune.
“It’s impossible to know how much of the sluggishness in rail volumes in February was due to weather and how much was due to weakness in the overall economy, but it seems likely that weather played a role,” Gray said.
He went on to say a particularly cold February could have been enough to pull down volumes. "That said, trade-related uncertainty hasn’t helped, nor has the economic uncertainty engendered by perceived softness in parts of the economy," he said.
So far, 2019 is following similar trend lines to 2018, albeit with larger swings. Aside from coal, a consistent pull-down on volumes, the commodities contributing the most to down volumes vary month to month. Coal, crushed stone, sand and gravel and grain and mill products were responsible for the February decline.