The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported U.S. rail traffic for the week ended March 28, 2020, as well as volumes for March 2020, and noted that COVID-19 has certainly taken its toll on the industry.
“Rail traffic numbers confirm that the coronavirus is taking a toll on the economy,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “For example, U.S. carloads of autos and auto parts last week were down 70% from the same week last year as auto production declined to zero and consumer spending has begun to shrink demand. While intermodal volume last week was down year-over-year 14% overall, total movements for the five railroads serving the West Coast ports remained steady for a fifth consecutive week, reinforcing the expectation that we may have seen the bottoming of the Asia-North America trade. However, this week also reminded us that the recent collapse in oil prices is hurting rail shipments of petroleum products, frac sand, and steel products.”
U.S. railroads originated 899,673 carloads in March 2020, down 6%, or 57,148 carloads, from March 2019. U.S. railroads also originated 935,380 containers and trailers in March 2020, down 12.2%, or 130,461 units, from the same month last year. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in March 2020 were 1,835,053, down 9.3%, or 187,609 carloads and intermodal units from March 2019.
In March 2020, 10 of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with March 2019. These included commodities such as chemicals, up 5,881 carloads or 4.6%; all other carloads, up 2,108 carloads or 9.5%; and petroleum & petroleum products, up 1,688 carloads or 3.5%. Commodities that saw declines in March 2020 from March 2019 included commodities such as coal, down 43,611 carloads or 15.9%; motor vehicles & parts, down 11,053 carloads or 15.9%; and crushed stone, sand & gravel, down 10,482 carloads or 12%.
“While there remain more unknowns than knowns about the next few months, there are tidbits of encouraging news,” Gray said. “For example, year-over-year carloads of grain were up in March for the first time in a year and March was the best month for rail chemical carloads in two years.
“In this time of crisis, many people deserve our praise and respect. Our health care professionals, who are on the front lines risking their own lives to save the lives of others, are at the top of that list. But we should also remember that behind the scenes, transportation and logistics providers—railroad, maritime and air cargo operating personnel, truckers, warehouse workers, delivery personnel—are also working tirelessly to supply the goods that we simply could not live without.”
Excluding coal, carloads were down 13,537 carloads, or 2%, in March 2020 from March 2019. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 15,181 carloads, or 2.5%.
Total U.S. carload traffic for the first three months of 2020 was 2,993,051 carloads, down 6.3%, or 202,755 carloads, from the same period last year; and 3,178,285 intermodal units, down 8.6%, or 298,297 containers and trailers, from last year.
Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 13 weeks of 2020 was 6,171,336 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 7.5% compared to last year.
Week Ended March 28, 2020
Total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 449,767 carloads and intermodal units, down 11.8% compared with the same week last year.
Total carloads for the week ended March 28 were 219,844 carloads, down 9.1% compared with the same week in 2019, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 229,923 containers and trailers, down 14.2% compared to 2019.
Two of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2019. They were farm products excl. grain, and food, up 348 carloads, to 16,027; and coal, up 34 carloads, to 60,983. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2019 included commodities such as motor vehicles and parts, down 12,379 carloads, to 5,423; nonmetallic minerals, down 3,333 carloads, to 31,159; and metallic ores and metals, down 2,432 carloads, to 20,875.
North American rail volume for the week ended March 28, 2020, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 320,231 carloads, down 8.3% compared with the same week last year, and 306,268 intermodal units, down 14.4% compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 626,499 carloads and intermodal units, down 11.4%. North American rail volume for the first 13 weeks of 2020 was 8,490,032 carloads and intermodal units, down 6% compared with 2019.
Canadian railroads reported 79,775 carloads for the week, down 5.9%, and 61,259 intermodal units, down 15.6% compared with the same week in 2019. For the first 13 weeks of 2020, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 1,839,042 carloads, containers and trailers, down 2.7%.
Mexican railroads reported 20,612 carloads for the week, down 9.1% compared with the same week last year, and 15,086 intermodal units, down 12.7%. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 13 weeks of 2020 was 479,654 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 2.3% from the same point last year.