- Freight Rail Traffic Plunges: Haunting Pictures of Transportation Recession
by Wolf Richter, http://wolfstreet.com/
292 Union Pacific engines idled in Arizona Desert
Total US rail traffic in April plunged 11.8% from a year ago, the Association of American Railroads reported today. Carloads of bulk commodities such as coal, oil, grains, and chemicals plummeted 16.1% to 944,339 units.
The coal industry is in a horrible condition and cannot compete with US natural gas at current prices. Coal-fired power plants are being retired. Demand for steam coal is plunging. Major US coal miners – even the largest one – are now bankrupt. So in April, carloads of coal plummeted 40% from the already beaten-down levels a year ago. The AAR report:
Rail coal traffic continues to suffer due to low natural gas prices and high coal stockpiles at power plants. Coal accounted for just 26% of non-intermodal rail traffic for US railroads in April 2016, down from 36% in April 2015 and 45% as recently as late 2011.
Only five of the 20 commodity categories saw gains. Of the decliners, coal was the biggest. But petroleum products also plunged 25%, and grain mill products dropped 7%. Even without coal, carloads were down 3% year-over-year.
But it’s not just coal. In April, loads of containers and trailers fell 7.5% year-over-year to 1,028,460 intermodal units. They transport goods for retailers and wholesalers. They haul parts, components, and assemblies for manufacturers. They haul imported goods from ports and borders to different destinations across the country, and they haul goods to be exported to the ports and borders. They’re a measure of the real economy.