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Intermodal Traffic Drops in 2016, First Annual Drop Since 2009


Tim Rue/Bloomberg News

After four consecutive years of record-breaking intermodal growth in the railroad industry, container and trailer traffic dropped 1.6% in 2016, according to data from the Association of American Railroads.

For the full year, railroads transported 13.5 million intermodal containers and trailer units, down from 13.7 million in 2015. Carload traffic dropped 8.2% to 13.1 million carloads in 2016, which includes the transportation of commodities such as coal, grain, chemicals, petroleum and construction materials.

“Last year was challenging for freight railroads,” said John Gray, AAR senior vice president of policy and economics. “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.”

RELATED: Construction begins on New Jersey intermodal terminal

The final results are consistent with the latest data from the Intermodal Association of North America. It reported the amount of trailers, containers and other equipment loaded onto railcars dropped 4.6% to 4.3 million units in the third quarter of 2016 versus the same period in 2015. In the same period, domestic container traffic increased 3.3% to 1.9 million units and international containers fell 6.7% to 2.2 million.

“There’s never been two consecutive negative quarters except in an economic recession, but we are in a freight recession right now,” said Pat Casey, vice president of fleet management at TTX Co., in a November 2016 webinar on the IANA report.

Larry Gross, an intermodal and rail expert at consultancy firm FTR, agreed with Gray that the tide turned positive in the fourth quarter but that much of the year was difficult for the industry.

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By Ari Ashe
Staff Reporter


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