United States railroad volumes got off to s strong start in January, according to data issued by the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

Carloads for the month were up 5.6 percent, or 61,864 carloads, at 1,160,84, and the weekly average of 290,211 carloads per week, represents the highest weekly average for the month of January going back to January 2008.

The AAR said that 18 of the 20 carload commodities tracked by the AAR were up compared to January 2014. Coal was up 4.4 percent, or 19,078 carloads, and crushed stone, sand and gravel was up 22.1 percent or 14,922 carloads.

Intermodal, which is coming off of a record-breaking 2014, was up 0.9 percent, or 8,658 units, at 1,005,067 trailers and containers, and the weekly average for the month-at 251,267 units, is the highest weekly average for any January in history, according to AAR data.

“January was a good start to the year for U.S. railroads, helped by the fact that the winter so far this year hasn’t been nearly as bad as it was last year,” said AARSenior Vice President John T. Gray in a statement. “The AAR recently estimated that U.S. railroads spent a record $27 billion on capital spending and maintenance expenses in 2014, and we’re projecting $29 billion in 2015. This massive spending is making it possible for railroads to move their customers’ freight more efficiently and reliably and steadily recover from 2014’s service issues.”

For the week ending January 31, U.S. carloads were up 10.2 percent at 298,568, and intermodal was up 1.1 percent at 249,910.

AAR President and CEO Ed Hamberger recently said the current situation in regards to railroad volunes is a good news/bad news story, with the good news being that the economy is coming back, with current traffic levels ahead of pre-recession levels.

As for the bad news, Hamberger said that even with demand at high levels, the industry has not been able to meet that level of demand as well as it should be.
Train velocity has been down, terminal dwell times have been up, and various utilities have said their stockpiles for commodities like coal and grain have not been where they need to be with winter here.

On top of that, he said that the STB has asked the industry for service-related metrics, and politicians are also clamoring for related effort to see service improvements, which Hamberger noted is not all bad, as the industry is focused on it as well.
In addressing how service came to become such a major issue, Hamberger cited major changes in traffic commodity mix, with two record grain markets and gains in domestic intermodal, too.

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