Carload, Intermodal Growth Trend Continues in Week 10: AAR

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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U.S. carloads and intermodal units saw gains of 2.1% and 22.4%, respectively, for the week ending March 13, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported March 17.

The rise for both started last week, following February’s winter-weather challenges.

BNSF Group Vice President, Consumer Products Tom G. Williams recently provided perspective on those challenges. “BNSF did experience significant weather-related impacts in recent weeks following record-breaking cold temperatures as well as heavy snow and ice accumulations across large segments of the rail network,” he testified at a March 10 hearing before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, which addressed the importance of rail to the U.S. economy and as a tool to mitigate climate change. “The extended duration of these extreme conditions, and their reach deep into our headquarters state of Texas, impacted our ability to maintain normal train operations. The railroad has since made significant gains in network velocity and fluidity but it will take some additional time to safely restore service to the level expected by our customers.”

Williams also addressed intermodal growth, pointing out that December 2020 and January 2021 “were the two largest months in BNSF history for moving volume direct to rail off the ports in Southern California. We have called back furloughed employees and pulled railcars and locomotives out of storage to help handle the increased freight demand and drive improved fluidity through this gateway.”

For the week ending March 13, AAR reported that total carloads came in at 230,684, up 2.1% vs. the same period last year, and intermodal volume was 290,052 containers and trailers, up 22.4%. Total weekly rail traffic was 520,736 carloads and intermodal units, a 12.5% increase, compared with the same week last year.

Six of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase vs. the comparable week in 2020. They included coal, up 8,744 carloads, to 64,102; grain, up 3,958 carloads, to 23,939; and farm products, excluding grain, and food, up 910 carloads, to 16,766. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2020 included motor vehicles and parts, down 4,258 carloads, to 14,829; chemicals, down 3,034 carloads, to 29,971; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 1,900 carloads, to 11,379.

For the first 10 weeks of 2021, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 2,218,117 carloads, falling 4.9% from the same point last year; and 2,761,908 intermodal units, up 9.9% from 2020. Total combined U.S. traffic for this year’s first 10 weeks was 4,980,025 carloads and intermodal units, a 2.7% increase vs. last year.

North American rail volume for the week ending March 13, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 333,556 carloads, a 0.2% decrease compared with the same week in 2020, and 381,119 intermodal units, a 21.5% increase vs. last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic was 714,675 carloads and intermodal units, up 10.3%. North American rail volume for the first 10 weeks of the year was 6,850,011 carloads and intermodal units, rising 2.8% compared with 2020.

Canadian railroads reported 82,428 carloads for the week, declining 2.6%, and 74,677 intermodal units, increasing 22.9% vs. the comparable week in 2020. For the first 10 weeks of 2021, they reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 1,500,759 carloads, containers and trailers, up 5.6%.

Mexican railroads reported 20,444 carloads for the week, falling 13.4% compared with the same week in 2020, and 16,390 intermodal units, rising 2.7%. Cumulative volume for the first 10 weeks of 2021 was 369,227 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, down 5.8% from the same point last year.

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