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.
Despite a strong start through the first half of the year, overall barge activity on the Arkansas River in 2018 declined.
Information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers showed 10.93 million tons were shipped January through December, down 8% from the 11.91 million tons during 2017.
Activity levels on the river were up by 6% through the first six months of the year when compared with the same six-month period of 2017. But a sharp decline in traffic from July through December dragged down the overall total for the year. In fact, monthly totals never eclipsed the 1 million ton mark the final seven months of the year. In 2017, monthly barge traffic topped 1 million tons in five of the last six months of the year, and seven months overall.
2018 snapped a two-year run of an upward climb for the Arkansas River, after tonnage had fallen below 10 million tons (9.96) in 2015 for the first time in at least four years. Tonnage totaled 11.54 million tons in 2016.
FREIGHT DECLINES IN DECEMBER
For the first time in 24 months, the volume of shipments tracked by the Cass Freight Shipments and Expenditures Index went negative, though analysts say that shouldn’t be cause for concern
December shipments dropped by 0.8% when compared with the same period of 2017. Freight expenditures, or the total amount spent on freight, rose 10% over the year-ago period of December 2017.
According to Donald Broughton, a chief market strategist and senior transportation analyst with Avondale Partners, who provides economic analysis for the Cass Freight Index, wrote in the report he is not yet alarmed about the volume of shipments going negative for the first time in 24 months, in part because December 2017 was an all-time high for the month, and in part because of the stabilizing patterns observed in almost all of the underlying freight flows.
He did not recognize two potential problems on the horizon— the tariffs and threats of even higher tariffs with China and the decline in WTI crude oil in December
RAIL TRAFFIC POSITIVE
Total U.S. railroad traffic in 2018 was 13.64 million carloads, up 1.8% from the January-December period of 2017, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR). Intermodal units totaled 14.47 million, up 5.5% from 2017.
For December, U.S. railroads originated 1.02 million carloads, up 2.9% from the same month in 2017. Intermodal (containers and trailers) was up 5% from December 2017 to 1.09 million. Combined there were 2.11 million U.S. carload and intermodal originations in December, up 4% from December 2017.
ENPLANEMENT NUMBERS RISE
Enplanements — or outbound passengers — at the state’s second-largest airport, Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) in Highfill, jumped for the seventh consecutive year to a record 788,261. That’s an increase of 8.7% from the previous record total of 725,284 in 2017.
After staying below the 1 million mark for two years, enplanements at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock topped the 1 million mark for the second consecutive year in 2018. Enplanements last year rose 5.15% to 1.06 million. That also outpaces the 2.02% annual growth from 2016 to 2017.
Enplanements at Fort Smith Regional Airport were up for the third straight year. They totaled 90,501 in 2018, up from 89,582 in 2017 and 87,488 in 2016.
Link here for a PDF of the January 2019 Arkansas Transportation Report.