Chemical shipments on U.S. railroads fell 5.5 percent last week after months of steady increases, the Association of American Railroads said.

Chemical shipments on trains, called rail car loadings, are a measure of demand for products ranging from plastics to fertilizers. They had been improving since 2009, when the economy was in the midst of the recession.

For the week that ended July 10, chemical rail car loadings fell to 25,852 from 27,353 a year earlier, the AAR said.

The figures often provide an early glimpse of broader trends for the chemical industry as well as manufacturing, according to analysts.

The weekly data indicated that year-to-date rail car chemical loadings had risen 12.1 percent from the same period in 2009.

Rail car loadings represent about 21 percent of chemical volumes by tonnage. Trucks, barges and pipelines carry the rest. (Reuters)