Arkansas Transportation Report: Modest growth, but concerns grow for back half of 2016

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 138 views 

Editor’s note: The Arkansas Transportation report is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by the Arkansas Trucking Association and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. Other transportation industry related stories can be found on the Arkansas Transportation Report landing page.
Conditions in the nation’s and Arkansas’ shipping industries indicate stability and modest growth, with a volatile energy sector and high inventory levels being concerns for the remainder of 2016.

One clear positive is activity on the Arkansas River (McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System). Although tonnage shipped on the Arkansas River is down 2% for the first two months of 2016, February tonnage was up almost 31%, suggesting that pent-up activity from flooding issues in 2015 is now working its way through the river navigation system.

This report also notes that fewer commodity shipments resulted in double-digit declines in U.S. rail traffic, which has pushed some train operators to speed up job cuts.

Following are highlights of the report.
• Airport traffic
The airport traffic tables have turned in early 2016, with Clinton National Airport in Little Rock up more than 4% for the first two months of the year, and the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) is down almost 2%. The Fort Smith Regional Airport posted a sharp drop of almost 17% for the first two months.

It was a slightly different story for Arkansas’ three largest airports in 2015. Clinton National Airport fell below a million enplanements, XNA set a new record for traffic, and Fort Smith saw traffic fall more than 7%.

• Trucking, shipping industries
While February numbers for the trucking and other freight hauling sectors were positive compared to recent months, two economists who watch the industry are uncertain shipping and tonnage levels will see a “robust rebound” for the first half of 2016.

The American Trucking Associations’ Truck Tonnage Index rose a surprising 7.2% in February following a revised 0.3% dip in January. The increase is the largest monthly move for the index since January 2013 (11.4%) and the largest year-over-year increase since December 2013 (10.4%).

The February Cass Freight Index report showed that shipments were up 8.3% compared to January, but down 2.6% compared to February 2015.

• Railroads
As railroad giant BNSF recently announced that its total furloughs will now touch more than 4,600 employees nationwide, industry reports show that total U.S. weekly rail traffic fell 16.5% from a year ago due the downward pressure on crude oil and other declining commodities prices.

Total carloads for the week ending March 26 were 232,348 carloads, down 18.5% compared with the same week in 2015, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 237,923 containers and trailers, down 14.5% compared to 2015.

Link here for a PDF version of the 6-page Arkansas Transportation Report.