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U.S. Rail Volumes Dip As Carriers Grapple With Flooding Impacts

U.S. Rail Volumes Dip As Carriers Grapple With Flooding Impacts

U.S. rail volumes fell again last week as rail service issues continue to plague the post-flooding Midwestern landscape.

Total U.S. rail traffic dropped 4.6 percent to 509,958 carloads and intermodal units for the week ending March 30, according to the Association of American Railroads. Of that, carloads fell 8.9 percent to 241,906 units, while intermodal volume dipped 0.4 percent to 268,052 containers and trailers.

Coal carloads last week generated the highest volume shipped last week, but they also saw the biggest decline. U.S. coal volumes totaled 60,984 carloads, down 26.3 percent from the same period in 2018. Carloads of nonmetallic minerals, the second highest volume shipped last week, were down 6.5 percent to 34,494 carloads. However, chemicals carloads rose 0.3 percent to 33,809 units. These commodities represented roughly 53 percent of total U.S. carload volume last week.

Meanwhile, year-to-date volumes were also lower compared with the same period in 2018. Total U.S. carloads were down 3.1 percent at nearly 3.2 million units, while intermodal volumes were down 0.6 percent at nearly 3.5 million units.

The decline in weekly U.S. rail traffic comes as the Midwest is still recovering from historic flooding. Rail carriers are also concerned about the cresting that could occur along the Mississippi River and other bodies of water. They are also monitoring the structural integrity of rail bridges and tracks in the region.

"Some locations will require more extensive repair work, including bridge reconstruction, before restoration of service is possible," BNSF (NYSE: BRK) said in a March 26 customer notification letter.

"We continue to utilize rerouting options where possible to move traffic through the area. Impacted customers tracing their freight may notice non-standard routings, locations and interchanges as well as extended transit times," BNSF said.

Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC) is rerouting traffic because of flooding conditions at Hannibal, Missouri, and so it is asking trains travelling between Decatur, Illinois, and Kansas City, Missouri, to divert to St. Louis. The company said there could be delays of 12 to 24 hours.

Meanwhile, Union Pacific (NYSE: UNO) said it is rerouting customers who use the Columbus subdivision between Fremont and Grand Island, Nebraska, and portions of the Falls City subdivision between Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Kansas City, Kansas. Repairs to its Lincoln subdivision between Valley and Lincoln, Nebraska, could begin this month.

Even rail carriers whose networks aren't in the flood-affected areas are feeling the effects of service disruptions on their lines. Kansas City Southern (NYSE: KSU) said it is accepting some re-routed traffic from other railroads because of flooding. Also, traffic that would normally flow from other networks onto the KSU network is slowed or stopped because of flooding, the railroad said.

Image sourced from Pixabay

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