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AAR reports freight rail traffic for 2016, December and week ending December 31

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported weekly U.S. rail traffic, as well as volumes for December 2016 and all of 2016.

Carload traffic in December totaled 973,642 carloads, up 2.8 percent or 26,147 carloads from December 2015. U.S. railroads also originated 1,011,870 containers and trailers in December 2016, up 11.2 percent or 102,215 units from the same month last year. For December 2016, combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations were 1,985,512, up 6.9 percent or 128,362 carloads and intermodal units from December 2015.

In December 2016, 13 of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with December 2015. These included: coal, up 4.2 percent or 13,360 carloads; grain, up 10.5 percent or 8,663 carloads; and chemicals, up 3.9 percent or 4,599 carloads. Commodities that saw declines in December 2016 from December 2015 included: petroleum and petroleum products, down 17.4 percent or 8,568 carloads; crushed stone, gravel and sand, down 4.1 percent or 2,889 carloads; and miscellaneous carloads, down 5.9 percent or 1,265 carloads.  

Excluding coal, carloads were up 2 percent or 12,787 carloads in December 2016 from December 2015.  

Total U.S. carload traffic for 2016 was 13,096,860 carloads, down 8.2 percent or 1,169,152 carloads, while intermodal containers and trailers were 13,490,491 units, down 1.6 percent or 220,171 containers and trailers when compared to 2015. In 2016, total rail traffic volume in the United States was 26,587,351 carloads and intermodal units, down 5 percent or 1,389,323 carloads and intermodal units from the same point last year.  

"Last year was challenging for freight railroads," said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John T. Gray.  "Rail carloads were down for the second consecutive year, due mainly to a weak manufacturing economy and turmoil in energy markets, while intermodal failed to set its fourth straight annual record.  That said, there are signs that the economy may be gradually returning to a period of growth."  

Week Ending December 31, 2016 
Total U.S. weekly rail traffic for the week ending December 31, 2016 was 425,998 carloads and intermodal units, up 7.7 percent compared with the same week last year.  

Total carloads for the week ending December 31 were 215,967 carloads, up 4 percent compared with the same week in 2015, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 210,031 containers and trailers, up 11.8 percent compared to 2015. 

North American rail volume for the week ending December 31, 2016, on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 295,755 carloads, up 5.3 percent compared with the same week last year, and 263,659 intermodal units, up 9.9 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 559,414 carloads and intermodal units, up 7.4 percent. North American rail volume for the first 52 weeks of 2016 was 34,820,886 carloads and intermodal units, down 4.5 percent compared with 2015.  

Canadian railroads reported 68,387 carloads for the week, up 10.5 percent, and 46,048 intermodal units, up 8.4 percent compared with the same week in 2015. For the first 52 weeks of 2016, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 6,845,205 carloads, containers and trailers, down 3.1 percent.  

Mexican railroads reported 11,401 carloads for the week, up 2.4 percent compared with the same week last year, and 7,580 intermodal units, down 20.7 percent. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 52 weeks of 2016 was 1,388,330 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, down 1.9 percent from the same point last year.  

2017 Outlook 
As previously mentioned, market shifts in the U.S. economy have led to challenges in the freight rail industry, especially as it relates to rail traffic.  

Freight railroads, therefore, have outlined a series of policy recommendations designed to help preserve and enhance the industry's positive impact on the nation's economy, while allowing for continued safe, efficient and reliable freight transportation service.  

"We remain focused on providing the best possible rail network for our customers and all Americans," said Edward R. Hamberger, President and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, "and as a result, the freight rail industry will advocate for a simpler and fairer tax code to enhance U.S economic development, promote growth and reduce debt. Freight railroads will also push for a sustainable funding source that provides for aggressive investment in public infrastructure."  

Hamberger also addressed the industry's ongoing concern with a series of proposed regulations before the Surface Transportation Board (STB).  

"The freight rail industry is capital intensive and must spend massive amounts of its money to maintain infrastructure and equipment. Current STB proposals would inhibit railroads' ability to continually invest the amount of capital needed to make the 140,000-mile network work for Americans. The Board should be cognizant of the economic impact our industry and promote regulations that enhance job growth and development," Hamberger added. 
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