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The River Subdivision of CSX Transportation Rail Line near Saugerties, New York. Photo: Getty Images

Railroad traffic and freight volume shipments are dropping below levels seen around this same time in 2016, 2017 and 2018, data from the Association of American Railroads shows.

Why it matters: An efficiency strategy called precision scheduled railroading (PSR) could be North American railroads' "last hope for continued profit growth," Barron's magazine reports — amid concerns of global economic slowdowns, a trade war and recession across the U.S., particularly in Michigan, Hawaii, Montana, Maryland and Louisiana.

  • PSR "uses departure schedules and point-to-point delivery methods to achieve low operating rations and consolidate railroad networks," according to breakthroughfuel.com.
  • In July, rail transportation and real estate company CSX "reported a drop in its last quarter's revenue and warned of a decline in the year's freight volumes," writes Barron's — but CSX shares have recovered nearly half of the 20% they lost following the company's warning.

The bottom line, per Barron's: "If the magic of precision scheduled railroading has only a few more percentage points of operating profit to deliver to railroads like Union Pacific, then profit growth will have to come from increased shipping volumes and price increases. And those growth drivers are not moving in the right direction."

Go deeper: The decline of American coal is taking a toll on the railroad industry

Go deeper

Kevin McCarthy's rude awakening

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Kevin McCarthy is learning you can get torched when you try to make everyone happy, especially after an insurrection.

Why it matters: The House Republican leader had been hoping to use this year to build toward taking the majority in 2022, but his efforts to bridge intra-party divisiveness over the Capitol siege have him taking heat from every direction, eroding his stature both with the public and within his party.

The next big political war: redistricting

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democrats are preparing a mix of tech and legal strategies to combat expected gerrymandering by Republicans, who are planning to go on legal offense themselves.

Why it matters: Democrats failed to regain a single state legislature on Election Day, while Republicans upped their control to 30 states' Houses and Senates. In the majority of states, legislatures draw new congressional district lines, which can boost a party's candidates for the next decade.

36 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Vaccinations, relief timing dominate Sweet 16 call

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) speaks during a news conference in December with a group of bipartisan lawmakers. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Vaccine distribution, pandemic data and a cross-party comity dominated today's virtual meeting between White House officials and a bipartisan group of 16 senators, Senator Angus King told Axios.

Why it matters: Given Democrats' razor-thin majority in both chambers of Congress, President Biden will have to rely heavily on this group of centrist lawmakers — dubbed the "Sweet 16" — to pass any substantial legislation.