AAR: U.S. Carload Traffic Up 7% in 2021

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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Of the 20 carload commodity categories the Association of American Railroads tracks, 15 have seen carload increases on U.S. Class I railroads through the first 11 months of 2021, with coal leading the way, AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray reported on Dec. 1.

Coal carloads are up more than 11%, “mainly because the price of natural gas to electricity generators has doubled since the beginning of the year,” Gray noted in AAR’s Dec. 1 rail traffic report. “Chemicals, grain and commodities related to steelmaking have also all showed solid carload growth this year.”

From January through November 2021, U.S. Class I’s hauled a total of 10,874,439 carloads, up 7% (or 710,728 carloads) from the same period in 2020; and 12,917,662 intermodal units, up 6.4% (or 775,257 containers and trailers) from 2020, according to AAR. Combined, U.S. traffic came in at 23,792,101 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 6.7% vs. the prior-year period.

In November 2021, U.S. railroads originated 917,787 carloads, rising 2% (or 17,996 carloads) from November 2020; and 1,028,039 containers and trailers, dropping 9.6% (or 108,705 units). Total U.S. carload and intermodal originations for the month were 1,945,826, down 4.5% (or 90,709 carloads and intermodal units) from November 2020.

(For October results, which were similar, see “AAR: Rails Feeling Supply Chain Challenges ‘Most Keenly’ in Terminals”; for September 2021, see “AAR: No Single Solution to the Intermodal Problem”; for August 2021, see “AAR: Railroads Working to Keep Network ‘Fluid’”; for July 2021, see “AAR: Rail Volumes ‘Decelerate’ in July”; for June 2021, see “Rail Traffic Gains Build in 2Q21.”; and for May 2021, see “AAR: May 2021 Traffic Results ‘Encouraging.’”)

In November 2021, 12 of the 20 AAR-tracked carload commodity categories saw carload gains compared with November 2020. These included: coal, up 20,731 carloads or 8.6%; chemicals, up 5,563 carloads or 4.4%; and crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 5,067 carloads or 7.4%. Commodities that saw declines in November 2021 from November 2020 included: motor vehicles and parts, down 8,186 carloads or 14.1%; grain, down 7,901 carloads or 7.4%; and all other carloads, down 3,355 carloads or 14.6%.

Excluding coal, carloads were down by 2,735, or 0.4%, in November 2021 from November 2020. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were up by 5,166, or 0.9%.

Week 47 (Ending Nov. 27, 2021)

Total U.S. rail traffic for week ending Nov. 27, 2021, was 430,793 carloads and intermodal units, falling 4.8% from the same point last year, according to the AAR report.

Total carloads for the week came in at 209,091, a 1.6% gain from the same point in 2020, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 221,702 containers and trailers, a 10.1% fall-off compared with 2020.

This is the 17th consecutive week of intermodal losses. (For more on the decline, see “U.S. Intermodal: Drop-Off Spans 16 Consecutive Weeks.”)

Four of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2020. They included coal, up 4,410 carloads, to 63,947; chemicals, up 1,393 carloads, to 30,015; and nonmetallic minerals, up 1,097 carloads, to 23,270. Commodity groups that posted decreases included grain, down 1,380 carloads, to 23,616; motor vehicles and parts, down 1,295 carloads, to 10,700; and miscellaneous carloads, down 944 carloads, to 6,393.

North American rail volume for the week ending Nov. 27, 2021, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 295,807 carloads, a 4.4% drop vs. the same week last year, and 281,953 intermodal units, a 16.1% decline vs. 2020. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 577,760 carloads and intermodal units, down 10.5%. North American rail volume for the first 47 weeks of 2021 was 32,411,379 carloads and intermodal units, up 5.5% compared with 2020.

Canadian railroads reported 66,506 carloads for the week, falling 18.9%, and 46,106 intermodal units, decreasing 38.4% compared with the same week in 2020. For the first 47 weeks of 2021, they reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 6,916,883 carloads, containers and trailers, up 2.1%.

Mexican railroads reported 20,210 carloads for the week, a drop-off of 6.7% from the same week in 2020, and 14,145 intermodal units, a decline of 3.6%. Their cumulative volume for the first 47 weeks of 2021 was 1,702,395 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 3.6% from prior-year period.

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