Freight rail traffic declined 2.5 percent last year

An eastbound Norfolk Southern Corp. mixed freight train, right, passes a westbound auto rack train in the siding near Waddy, Kentucky, in October. A sharper decline in U.S. railroad cargo this quarter points to weak spots in the U.S. economy as a strong dollar crimps exports, retailers whittle down excess inventory and energy investment stalls. Bloomberg photo by Luke Sharrett.

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Freight railroads hauled 2.5 percent fewer carloads last year as demand for coal continued to erode and shipments of most other goods also slowed.

The numbers released by the Association of American Railroads Tuesday limited railroad profits in 2015 and forced them to cut costs.

The major railroads will begin releasing their fourth-quarter financial reports next week.

Railroads hauled just under 28 million carloads of freight in the United States last year. That was down from last year’s 28.7 million carloads.

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Coal shipments fell 12 percent in 2015 because of weak demand from U.S. utilities and export markets.

Crude oil shipments also fell, but the year-end numbers don’t break out that commodity individually. Through September, crude oil shipments were down 10 percent.

Shipments of intermodal containers grew 1.6 percent.