After the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported on U.S. rail traffic for the week ended Aug. 1, 2020, as well as for July 2020, there appears to be hope in traffic volumes returning to pre-COVID-19 levels.
“The old saying, ‘You have to play the hand you’re dealt’ applies to railroads,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “Rail traffic, like the overall economy, is generally trending in the right direction, but progress is slow; there’s a long way to go before it’s back to normal; and both week-to-week improvements and setbacks in individual commodities are to be expected. Coal and other energy-related rail commodities continue to struggle more than most, while intermodal is closer than any other rail traffic category to pre-pandemic levels.”
U.S. railroads originated 1,042,017 carloads in July 2020, down 17.6%, or 222,337 carloads, from July 2019. U.S. railroads also originated 1,295,960 containers and trailers in July 2020, down 1.4%, or 18,403 units, from the same month last year. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in July 2020 were 2,337,977, down 9.3%, or 240,740 carloads and intermodal units from July 2019.
In July 2020, three of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with July 2019. These were food products, up 475 carloads or 1.7%; farm products excl. grain, up 295 carloads or 8.3%; and lumber & wood products, up 258 carloads or 1.6%. Commodities that saw declines in July 2020 from July 2019 included commodities such as coal, down 110,225 carloads or 28.7%; crushed stone, sand & gravel, down 29,547 carloads or 24.8%; and metallic ores, down 21,942 carloads or 63.7%.
Excluding coal, carloads were down 112,112 carloads, or 12.7%, in July 2020 from July 2019. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 100,575 carloads, or 13.2%.
Total U.S. carload traffic for the first seven months of 2020 was 6,550,030 carloads, down 16.2%, or 1,266,725 carloads, from the same period last year; and 7,487,523 intermodal units, down 9.1%, or 751,100 containers and trailers, from last year.
Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 31 weeks of 2020 was 14,037,553 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 12.6% compared to last year.
Week Ended Aug. 1, 2020
Total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 487,968 carloads and intermodal units, down 9.9% compared with the same week last year.
Total carloads for the week ending August 1 were 217,691 carloads, down 18.3% compared with the same week in 2019, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 270,277 containers and trailers, down 1.8% compared to 2019.
None of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2019. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2019 included commodities such as coal, down 24,077 carloads, to 59,458; nonmetallic minerals, down 9,516 carloads, to 29,578; and metallic ores and metals, down 6,972 carloads, to 16,516.
North American rail volume for the week ended Aug. 1, 2020, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 308,202 carloads, down 16.4% compared with the same week last year, and 353,663 intermodal units, down 4% compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 661,865 carloads and intermodal units, down 10.2%. North American rail volume for the first 31 weeks of 2020 was 19,385,373 carloads and intermodal units, down 11.6% compared with 2019.
Canadian railroads reported 72,466 carloads for the week, down 11.2%, and 68,044 intermodal units, down 9.5% compared with the same week in 2019. For the first 31 weeks of 2020, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 4,288,997 carloads, containers and trailers, down 8.5%.
Mexican railroads reported 18,045 carloads for the week, down 13.7% compared with the same week last year, and 15,342 intermodal units, down 15%. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 31 weeks of 2020 was 1,058,823 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, down 10% from the same point last year.