October was the “the best month ever” for U.S. rail intermodal, with volumes up by one-third from April—“a stunning increase in six months,” Association of American Railroads Senior Vice President John T. Gray said on Nov. 4. Intermodal again offset carload declines, as U.S. rail traffic for the month—2,082,646 carloads and intermodal units—rose 2.0%, compared with the same month last year. Also positive: Carloads rose for 10 of the 20 categories AAR tracks, “the most since the pandemic began,” Gray noted.
In October, carloads of grain “were their highest in 13 years, while carloads of motor vehicles and parts have recovered after falling close to 90% earlier this year,” Gray continued. “Changes in energy markets continue to pressure carloads of coal, petroleum products, and frac sand and holding back total carloads. Excluding those three categories, carloads in October were a few percentage points higher than last year.”
U.S. railroads originated 912,772 carloads in October 2020, down 6.6%, or 64,634 carloads, from October 2019. They also originated 1,169,874 containers and trailers in October 2020, up 10.0%, or 105,966 units, from the same month last year.
In October 2020, among the 10 carload commodity categories that saw carload gains compared with October 2019 were: grain, up 21,557 carloads or 25.5%; iron and steel scrap, up 3,579 carloads or 29.1%; and waste and nonferrous scrap, up 1,527 carloads or 11.2%. Commodities that saw declines in October 2020 from October 2019 included: coal, down 56,343 carloads or 19.1%; crushed stone, sand and gravel, down 14,275 carloads or 16.0%; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 10,199 carloads or 20.0%.
Total U.S. carload traffic for the first 10 months of 2020 was 9,480,575 carloads, down 14.5%, or 1,608,065 carloads, from the same period last year; and 11,204,234 intermodal units, down 4.4%, or 517,668 containers and trailers, from last year.
Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 44 weeks of 2020 was 20,684,809 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 9.3% compared with last year.
Week Ending Oct. 31, 2020
Total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 520,778 carloads and intermodal units, up 2.1% compared with the same week last year.
Total carloads for the week ending October 31 were 227,437 carloads, down 7.3% compared with the same week in 2019, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 293,341 containers and trailers, up 10.8% compared with 2019.
Three of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2019. They included grain, up 5,205 carloads, to 27,002; farm products excluding grain, and food, up 635 carloads, to 16,580; and metallic ores and metals, up 212 carloads, to 20,686. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2019 included coal, down 13,893 carloads, to 58,585; nonmetallic minerals, down 4,057 carloads, to 29,244; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 2,505 carloads, to 10,202.
North American rail volume for the week ending October 31, 2020, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 323,590 carloads, down 6.7% compared with the same week last year, and 389,896 intermodal units, up 10.8% compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 713,486 carloads and intermodal units, up 2.1%. North American rail volume for the first 44 weeks of 2020 was 28,463,208 carloads and intermodal units, down 8.7% compared with 2019.
Canadian railroads reported 76,575 carloads for the week, down 6.3%, and 81,269 intermodal units, up 20.4% compared with the same week in 2019. For the first 44 weeks of 2020, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 6,267,116 carloads, containers and trailers, down 6.2%.
Mexican railroads reported 19,578 carloads for the week, down 1.4% compared with the same week last year, and 15,286 intermodal units, down 22.5%. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 44 weeks of 2020 was 1,511,283 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, down 10.9% from the same point last year.