Association of American Railroads traffic report for the week ending April 4, 2020

Written by David C. Lester, Managing Editor
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Total U.S. carloads posted largest year-over-year weekly decline since 1988.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported U.S. rail traffic for the week ending April 4, 2020.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 429,095 carloads and intermodal units, down 15.9 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending April 4 were 210,911 carloads, down 16.2 percent compared with the same week in 2019, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 218,184 containers and trailers, down 15.7 percent compared to 2019.

Two of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2019. They were miscellaneous carloads, up 1,369 carloads, to 10,336; and forest products, up 127 carloads, to 9,916. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2019 included coal, down 17,587 carloads, to 57,504; motor vehicles and parts, down 14,389 carloads, to 3,171; and nonmetallic minerals, down 4,526 carloads, to 31,527.

“The impact of the novel coronavirus on railroads is growing,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “Since 1988, when our data begin, total U.S. rail carloads were lower than they were last week only during a few Christmas and New Year’s weeks, when rail operations are seasonally low.  Part of the problem now is sustained weakness in coal carloads, but even excluding coal, carloads last week were down 13.1%. We haven’t seen sustained declines of that magnitude since the Great Recession. The worst performing commodity category last week was autos and auto parts, with North American carloads down 84% from what they were just three weeks ago. It wasn’t just autos, though: last week, 13 of the 20 U.S. carload categories we track, representing 87% of total carloads, saw year-over-year declines, including big declines in steel scrap, steel products, nonferrous scrap, crushed stone and sand, and petroleum products. Based on rail data, it’s clear that many sectors of U.S. industry are beginning to feel the impact of coronavirus disruptions.

“Intermodal volume last week was down 15.7% over last year,” Gray said. “With China in the very early stages of its own recovery, whether intermodal volumes will continue to fall – and if they do continue to fall, how far – will now depend to a large extent on what happens with consumer spending in North America.  That, in turn, will depend on how long social distancing steps must remain in place; how well and how quickly federal and state unemployment insurance and other programs fill  gaps in household cash flows; and how much the current situation causes consumers to lose long-term confidence and remain in retrench mode not just when health concerns begin to recede but, more importantly, when they have been largely resolved.”

For the first 14 weeks of 2020, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 3,203,962 carloads, down 7.1 percent from the same point last year; and 3,396,469 intermodal units, down 9.1 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 14 weeks of 2020 was 6,600,431 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 8.1 percent compared to last year.

North American rail volume for the week ending April 4, 2020, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 301,234 carloads, down 16.7 percent compared with the same week last year, and 295,476 intermodal units, down 15.5 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 596,710 carloads and intermodal units, down 16.1 percent. North American rail volume for the first 14 weeks of 2020 was 9,086,742 carloads and intermodal units, down 6.7 percent compared with 2019.

Canadian railroads reported 73,841 carloads for the week, down 17.1 percent, and 63,604 intermodal units, down 12.7 percent compared with the same week in 2019. For the first 14 weeks of 2020, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 1,976,487 carloads, containers and trailers, down 3.7 percent.

Mexican railroads reported 16,482 carloads for the week, down 21.8 percent compared with the same week last year, and 13,688 intermodal units, down 24.3 percent. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 14 weeks of 2020 was 509,824 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 0.3 percent from the same point last year.

Categories: Class 1, Freight, Intermodal, Railroad News
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