AAR: Rail Traffic ‘Recovering Ground’Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
“A number of U.S. rail traffic categories have completely recovered ground lost during the pandemic or are very close to doing so,” AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray noted in the AAR traffic report for April 2021 and the week ending May 1, 2021.
Not only did intermodal set a new “all-time record” last month, but also carloads of grain, food, lumber, paper, scrap metal and several other commodity categories were “higher” than both April 2019’s pre-pandemic levels as well as April 2020’s pandemic levels, according to Gray. Carloads of chemicals and steel in April 2021 were “just shy” of April 2019’s levels and “much higher” than last year, he added.
Of the 20 carload commodity categories AAR tracks each month, 17 saw carload gains last month vs. April 2020. These included: coal, up 55,929 carloads or 28.7%; motor vehicles and parts, up 38,891 carloads or 465.9%; and chemicals, up 17,201 carloads or 14.8%. Commodities that saw declines in April 2021 from April 2020 included: crushed stone, sand and gravel, down 823 carloads or 1%; primary forest products, down 124 carloads or 2.9%; and farm products excluding grain, down 74 carloads or 1.9%.
U.S. railroads originated 951,840 carloads in April 2021, rising 23.7%, or 182,060 carloads, from the same month in 2020, while they originated 1,173,952 containers and trailers, increasing 33.8%, or 296,758 units. Combined, last month’s originations came in at 2,125,792, up 29.1%, or 478,818 carloads and intermodal units from April 2020.
Excluding coal, carloads were up by 126,131, or 21.9%, in April 2021 from April 2020. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were up by 109,124, or 22.4%.
Total U.S. carload traffic for the first four months of 2021 was 3,862,937 carloads, up 2.8%, or 104,793 carloads, from the same period last year; and 4,793,498 intermodal units, up 17.6%, or 718,271 containers and trailers, from 2020.
Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 17 weeks of 2021 was 8,656,435 carloads and intermodal units, rising 10.5% vs. the 2020 period.
Week 17 (Ending May 1, 2021)
Total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 540,667 carloads and intermodal units, rising 29.6% compared with the same week last year.
Total carloads for the week ending May 1, 2021, came in at 240,858, up 27.2% vs. the same week in 2020, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 299,809 containers and trailers, up 31.6% compared with 2020.
All 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase from the same point in 2020. They included coal, up 17,094 carloads, to 62,970; motor vehicles and parts, up 9,364 carloads, to 11,344; and metallic ores and metals, up 7,929 carloads, to 24,462.
North American rail volume for the week ending May 1, 2021, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 341,400 carloads, increasing 26.4% vs. the same week last year, and 385,743 intermodal units, rising 25.2% compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America came in at 727,143 carloads and intermodal units, up 25.8%. North American rail volume for the first 17 weeks of this year was 11,842,622 carloads and intermodal units, up 9.3% compared with 2020.
Canadian railroads reported 79,618 carloads for the week, up 16.4%, and 70,192 intermodal units, up 1.1% vs. the same week in 2020. For the first 17 weeks of 2021, they reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 2,574,502 carloads, containers and trailers, a 7.2% increase.
Mexican railroads reported 20,924 carloads for the week, up 69.6% from the same point last year, and 15,742 intermodal units, up 43.4%. Their cumulative volume for the first 17 weeks of 2021 was 611,685 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 2.8% vs. the same period in 2020.