From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators. Graphs and excerpts reprinted with permission.
Rail volumes today are being negatively influenced by broader economic trends, including
slowdowns in industrial output, high inventory levels at many retailers, lower port activity, and consumer
spending that’s not as robust as it was during most of the last three years. Unfortunately, to date there
are no clear indications that this uncertainty will dissipate in the near term.
Total U.S. freight carloads were down 1.2% in March 2023 from March 2022, their fourth year-over-year decline in the past five months. In 2023’s first quarter, total carloads were down 0.3% from last year. … Meanwhile, U.S. intermodal volume fell 13.3% in March 2023, its 13th straight year-over-year
decline and 19th in the past 20 months. In the first quarter, volume was 3.024 million containers and
trailers, down 10.3% from last year and the lowest first-quarter total for intermodal since 2012.
Click on graph for larger image.
This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows the six-week average of U.S. Carloads in 2021, 2022 and 2022:
U.S. freight railroads originated 1.164 million total
carloads in March 2023, down 1.2%, or 13,794 carloads,
from the same period in 2022.
For the first quarter of 2023, total carloads were
down 0.3%, or 9,068 carloads, from last year.
The second graph shows the six-week average (not monthly) of U.S. intermodal in 2021, 2022 and 2023: (using intermodal or shipping containers):
U.S. railroads also had 1.160 million intermodal
originations in March 2023, down 13.3% from March 2022. … March 2023 was
only the second month since March 2017 (January 2023
was the other) in which originated carloads exceeded
originated intermodal units.
Reasons for intermodal’s decline this year include
consumer spending that is less robust than it has been;
reduced port activity; too-high inventory levels at many
retailers; and lower truck rates that make all-truck
movements more price competitive.