U.S. intermodal traffic continues to show strength

Written by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief
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AAR’s John Gray: “Railroads are well prepared to support a strong recovery whenever it occurs.”
David C. Lester

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported U.S. rail traffic for the week ending October 3, 2020, as well as volumes for September 2020.

U.S. railroads originated 1,119,546 carloads in September 2020, down 9.7 percent, or 119,909 carloads, from September 2019. U.S. railroads also originated 1,423,883 containers and trailers in September 2020, up 7.1 percent, or 94,351 units, from the same month last year. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in September 2020 were 2,543,429, down 1 percent, or 25,558 carloads and intermodal units from September 2019.

In September 2020, eight of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with September 2019. These included: grain, up 25,705 carloads or 27.8 percent; iron & steel scrap, up 2,021 carloads or 12.2 percent; and grain mill products, up 1,978 carloads or 4.7 percent. Commodities that saw declines in September 2020 from September 2019 included: coal, down 95,400 carloads or 24.2 percent; crushed stone, sand & gravel, down 23,542 carloads or 20.9 percent; and chemicals, down 8,904 carloads or 5.6 percent.

“September 2020 was the fourth best intermodal month in history for U.S. railroads, as retailers and others restocked their inventories and prepared for the holiday season,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “Meanwhile, rail carloads, which don’t include intermodal, remained down in September compared with last year, but showed marked improvement compared to a few months ago, especially if you exclude coal. In the meantime, railroads remain focused on keeping their employees safe while delivering the goods our nation needs.”

Excluding coal, carloads were down 24,509 carloads, or 2.9 percent, in September 2020 from September 2019. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 50,214 carloads, or 6.7 percent.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first nine months of 2020 was 8,567,803 carloads, down 15.3 percent, or 1,543,431 carloads, from the same period last year; and 10,034,360 intermodal units, down 5.9 percent, or 623,634 containers and trailers, from last year.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 40 weeks of 2020 was 18,602,163 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 10.4 percent compared to last year.

Week Ending October 3, 2020

Total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 518,761 carloads and intermodal units, up 0.8 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending October 3 were 232,273 carloads, down 5.9 percent compared with the same week in 2019, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 286,488 containers and trailers, up 6.9 percent compared to 2019.

Five of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2019. They included grain, up 6,857 carloads, to 26,534; metallic ores and metals, up 2,799 carloads, to 21,669; and miscellaneous carloads, up 1,097 carloads, to 10,766. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2019 included coal, down 18,074 carloads, to 58,722; nonmetallic minerals, down 4,496 carloads, to 30,483; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 2,159 carloads, to 10,428.

North American rail volume for the week ending October 3, 2020, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 330,778 carloads, down 3.8 percent compared with the same week last year, and 380,792 intermodal units, up 5.7 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 711,570 carloads and intermodal units, up 1 percent. North American rail volume for the first 40 weeks of 2020 was 25,606,616 carloads and intermodal units, down 9.8 percent compared with 2019.

Canadian railroads reported 80,762 carloads for the week, up 5.6 percent, and 77,179 intermodal units, up 6.6 percent compared with the same week in 2019. For the first 40 weeks of 2020, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 5,632,155 carloads, containers and trailers, down 7.3 percent.

Mexican railroads reported 17,743 carloads for the week, down 14.3 percent compared with the same week last year, and 17,125 intermodal units, down 13.5 percent. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 40 weeks of 2020 was 1,372,298 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, down 10.7 percent from the same point last year.

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