Arkansas Transportation Report: Arkansas River traffic bounces back in June, YTD activity still down 5%

by Talk Business & Politics staff ( 92 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.


Barge activity on the Arkansas River made a strong comeback in June, but year-to-date traffic for the first six months of the year was off by 5% compared to 2016.

Information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers showed 5.63 million tons were shipped January through May, down from the 5.91 million tons during the same period of 2016.

River traffic was impacted earlier this year by heavy rainfall in March and through April in areas of Oklahoma that feed into the Arkansas River watershed. The increased river levels slowed and eventually halted shipping on the river.

May’s monthly total of 499,662 tons was the lowest monthly level since June 2015 (390,084 tons).

River traffic in June surged to 1.04 million tons, a 7.1% increase from 979,684 tons in June 2016.

The Arkansas River system is 445 miles long and stretches from the confluence of the Mississippi River to the Port of Catoosa near Tulsa, Okla. The controlled waterway has 18 locks and dams, with 13 in Arkansas and five in Oklahoma.

“Arkansas is fortunate to be a part of the inland river system and the Port of Little Rock continues to market the waterway as a bible transportation alternative for industry,” said Bryan Day, executive director of the Little Rock Port Authority. “Although we have had a small slowdown in tonnage due to river conditions this year, we remain optimistic that our overall activity and tonnage will continue to grow.”

Total U.S. railroad traffic for the first six months of 2017 was 6.69 million carloads, up 6.4% from the January-June period in 2016, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR). Intermodal units in June were a record 6.89 million, up 2.7% from last year.

“Rail traffic indicators of the economy remain mixed,” AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray wrote in the report. “While some commodity groups, such as intermodal, chemicals and crushed stone and sand [driven heavily by frac sand] set new all-time first half records and a few others like grain and coke set post-recession records, several other traffic categories continue to struggle. All of this indicates an industrial economy that may not yet have a clear direction forward and one that continues to undergo structural change. It is a sign of the reality railroads constantly face: changing markets that are difficult to foresee and plan for.”

Total U.S. weekly rail traffic for the week ending July 22 was 534,152 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.1% from the same week of 2016. Total carloads for the period were 256,863 carloads, a 2% decrease compared with the same week in 2016. U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 277,289 containers and trailers, an increase of 4.1% compared to 2016.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 29 weeks of 2017 was 15.12 million carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 4.3% compared to last year.

Mid-way through 2017, traffic at the state’s three largest commercial airports is up compared to 2016, according to the latest data. And Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) in Highfill hit an historic milestone in the month of June.

Enplanements — or outbound passengers — at XNA were up 5.12% in the first six months of the year, from 316,680 in 2016 to 332,902 in 2017.

At Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, enplanements totaled 498,552 in the January-June period, up 2.44 percent from the same six months of 2016.

At Fort Smith Regional Airport, the state’s third-largest airport, enplanements totaled 43,824 in the January-June period, up 5.36% from the same six-month period last year.

Link here for a PDF of the August 2017 Transportation Report.