AAR: November Rail Traffic ‘Making Up Lost Ground’

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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In November, U.S. rail traffic “continued to make up lost ground,” with U.S. intermodal volumes at “near record highs” for the second consecutive month, Association of American Railroads (AAR) Senior Vice President John T. Gray reported on Dec. 2.

Intermodal growth—driven by import volumes and internet purchasing by consumers, Gray said—again offset carload declines. U.S. rail traffic for November—2,036,889 carloads and intermodal units—rose 3.1%, compared with November 2019.

U.S. railroads originated 900,194 carloads in November 2020, down 5.8%, or 55,198 carloads, from November 2019. They also originated 1,136,695 containers and trailers, up 11.5%, or 116,915 units, from the same month last year.

Excluding coal, carloads were down 5,947 carloads, or 0.9%, in November 2020 from November 2019—“very close to where they were before the pandemic hit, with grain volumes approaching record highs due to soybean exports,” Gray said. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 25,973 carloads, or 4.5%.

In November 2020, nine of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with November 2019. These were grain, up 20,026 carloads or 23.1%; chemicals, up 4,153 carloads or 3.4%; and grain mill products, up 1,821 carloads or 5.3%. Commodities that saw declines in November 2020 from November 2019 included coal, down 49,251 carloads or 16.9%; petroleum and petroleum products, down 10,227 carloads or 19.9%; and crushed stone, sand and gravel, down 7,819 carloads or 10.3%.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first 11 months of the year was 10,380,769 carloads, down 13.8%, or 1,663,263 carloads, from the same period last year; and 12,340,929 intermodal units, down 3.1%, or 400,753 containers and trailers, from last year.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 48 weeks of 2020 was 22,721,698 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 8.3% compared with last year.

“Railroads join everyone else in hoping that the recent surge in COVID-19 infection rates across the country recedes quickly and that our nation can return to a path of improved personal and economic health,” Gray said.

Week Ending Nov. 28, 2020

Total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 452,792 carloads and intermodal units, up 3.7% compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Nov. 28 were 206,288 carloads, down 4.1% compared with the same week in 2019, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 246,504 containers and trailers, up 11.2% compared with 2019.

Three of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2019. They included grain, up 4,690 carloads, to 25,099; chemicals, up 898 carloads, to 28,628; and farm products excluding grain, and food, up 293 carloads, to 14,519. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2019 were coal, down 7,973 carloads, to 59,775; petroleum and petroleum products, down 2,910 carloads, to 9,071; and nonmetallic minerals, down 1,770 carloads, to 22,173.

North American rail volume for the week ending Nov. 28, 2020, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 308,361 carloads, up 0.8% compared with the same week last year, and 335,532 intermodal units, up 9.2% compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 643,893 carloads and intermodal units, up 5%. North American rail volume for the first 48 weeks of 2020 was 31,279,588 carloads and intermodal units, down 7.7% compared with 2019.

Canadian railroads reported 81,713 carloads for the week, up 15.5%, and 74,960 intermodal units, up 9.4% compared with the same week in 2019. For the first 48 weeks of 2020, they reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 6,899,077 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, down 4.9%.

Mexican railroads reported 20,360 carloads for the week, up 0.7% compared with the same week last year, and 14,068 intermodal units, down 17.8%. Their cumulative volume for the first 48 weeks of 2020 was 1,658,813 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, down 10.2% from the same point last year.

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