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US railroads CSX, Norfolk Southern boost coal transport in Q2: bank

London — North America's main coal export railroads, the CSX and Norfolk Southern,are estimated to have lifted coal shipment volumes in the second quarter withhigher overseas demand a key driver, US bank Seaport Capital said in a report.

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At the CSX, coal volume rose 8.6% and metallic ores/minerals were up 5.4%in the Q2 period through June 16, compared with the corresponding 2017 period,Seaport said. The CSX had moved around 176,002 carloads of coal in theApril-June 16 period, it said.

At Norfolk Southern, coal volumes were up 3.5% to 217,931 carloads, inthe same period, based on Seaport's estimates. Each carload is around 100short tons.

CSX CFO Frank Lonegro said earlier this month that energy is a strongdemand driver for its business, and this includes export coal, in remarks to aUBS investor conference.

If seaborne coking coal prices near the $200/mt level, "we would see goodexport demand into the second half," Lonegro said. "If we do see thatcontinued $180, $200 type of a number, then you're going to see it flowthrough both volume and the revenue per user."

Market sources see Norfolk Southern and its terminal as a main outlet forincreased thermal coal exports. US thermal coal demand has been stoked byhigher seaborne prices and broader overseas demand to use and blend highsulfur and high calorific value thermal coal with other origins.

Given an increase in US thermal coal exports, there may be morecompetition with met coal to secure service and space in East Coast exportqueues predominantly serving coking coal markets.

Bituminous non-coking coal exports from the US in April totaled 3.99million mt, up 14.1% from March and 156.4% from last year, according to thelatest US government data. The Norfolk ports export region exported around athird, or 460,000 mt, more bituminous coal in the January-April period.

US exports for coking coal are running at higher annualized rates, andmay well exceed 50 million mt as India and Japan took more to diversify fromAustralia, and Brazil and Ukraine boosted regional demand.

CSX was hit by several derailments during the quarter. The weather in theeastern US served mainly by Jacksonville, Florida-based CSX "was alsounusually wet," Seaport said.

For both the CSX and NS, "export met coal, a very high margin business,"was said to be "very strong" due to potential upside on both volume andrailing rates, Seaport said.

Norfolk Southern suffered poorer service than other Class 1 railroads inQ2 and saw slower average speeds and longer layovers in the Q2 period, Seaportsaid.

"Management believes it has all of the capacity it needs, but that itsresources were geographically misaligned (i.e., over-resourced in the north,under-resourced in the south)," Seaport said.

"It is correcting the issue and expects service metrics to improve overtime. The company has not provided a concrete timeline for when it expectsoverall service to return to normal levels."

The Norfolk Southern railroad serves the company's wholly owned LambertsPoint, Pier 6 terminal in Norfolk, Virginia, while CSX serves the DominionTerminal Associates (DTA) terminal in Newport News, along with the KinderMorgan-owned Pier 9 terminal in Newport News.

In Baltimore, Norfolk Southern serves the CNX Marine Terminal. The CSXoperates its own coal terminal in Baltimore, Curtis Bay, and also in Toledo,Ohio, operates a coal terminal and pier facility serving the Great Lakes andoverseas markets.

In Canada, the Canadian Pacific railroad, which is Teck Resources' mainroute for shipping to ports, suffered strike-related issues in May and facedthreats earlier.

Seaport said the May action caused the company to ramp up and ramp downits network on several occasions.

"The biggest impact, according to the company, was on the top line, whereit had to forgo volumes," it said.

CP's coal volume fell 3.9% to 66,206 carloads, compared with thecorresponding 2017 period, Seaport said.

--Hector Forster, hector.forster@spglobal.com

--Edited by Richard Rubin, richard.rubin@spglobal.com