In January, U.S. intermodal shipments and carloads of chemicals set new records, and grain was up 40%, its “biggest-ever” year-over-year increase, Association of American Railroads (AAR) Senior Vice President John T. Gray reported on Feb. 3. Total carloads (930,303) were the highest they have been in a year, he added—an encouraging sign.
Excluding coal, carloads “actually grew year-over-year for the second straight month,” Gray said. They were up by 15,557, or 2.3%, in January 2021 from January 2020.
Carloads excluding coal and grain, however, were down by 15,877, or 2.7%.
“To be sure, the economy remains under strain with a good deal of uncertainty, but we’re cautiously optimistic about the future,” Gray said. “Railroads are well prepared to support a strong recovery whenever it occurs.”
Combined, U.S. carload and intermodal originations in January 2021 were 2,103,523, up 5.3%, or 106,749 carloads and intermodal units, from January 2020. The rise was based on intermodal’s continued strength. U.S. railroads originated 1,173,220 containers and trailers, increasing 12.1%, or 126,548 units, from the same month last year; and they originated 930,303 carloads for the month, falling 2.1%, or 19,799 carloads, from January 2020.
For the month, 10 of the 20 AAR-tracked carload commodity categories saw gains compared with January 2020. These included: grain, up 31,434 carloads or 40%; chemicals, up 5,717 carloads or 4.4%; and metallic ores, up 5,190 carloads or 28.7%. Commodities that saw declines in January 2021 vs. January 2020 included: coal, down 35,356 carloads or 12.7%; crushed stone, sand and gravel, down 14,097 carloads or 18.9%; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 6,529 carloads or 12.1%.
Week Ending Jan. 30, 2021
Total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 520,693 carloads and intermodal units—up 2.1% from the same week last year—based on a gain in intermodal.
Total carloads for the week came in at 231,370, down 4.1% compared with the same week in 2020, while intermodal volume was 289,323 containers and trailers, up 7.6% compared to 2020.
Three of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase vs. the same week in 2020. They were grain, up 8,321 carloads, to 27,482; chemicals, up 980 carloads, to 34,023; and farm products excluding grain, and food, up 98 carloads, to 16,373. Commodity groups that experienced decreases vs. the same week in 2020 included coal, down 7,710 carloads, to 61,405; nonmetallic minerals, down 5,424 carloads, to 24,620; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 1,952 carloads, to 11,291.
North American rail volume for the week ending Jan. 30, 2021, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 333,887 carloads, a decrease of 3.4% compared with the same week last year, and 377,263 intermodal units, an increase of 4.7% vs. last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic was 711,150 carloads and intermodal units, up 0.7%. Rail volume for the first four weeks of 2021 was 2,870,421 carloads and intermodal units, up 4.9% compared with 2020.
Canadian railroads reported 81,944 carloads for the week, falling 3.4%, and 70,571 intermodal units, declining 3.3% compared with the same week in 2020. For the first four weeks of 2021, they reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 620,608 carloads and containers and trailers, up 5.6%.
Mexican railroads reported 20,573 carloads for the week ending Jan. 31, 2021, rising 4.5% from the same week last year, and 17,369 intermodal units, falling 6.0%. Cumulative volume for the first four weeks of 2021 was 146,290 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, decreasing 3.7% from the same point last year.