Rail Traffic Comparisons Remain ‘Inflated’ Due to Pandemic: AAR

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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While total U.S. rail traffic for the week ending March 27, 2021 was up 16.1%, the rise over the prior-year period is “inflated” due to pandemic-related economy-wide shutdowns, followed by rail volume reductions in 2020, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported March 31.

Last week’s AAR traffic report (for the week ending March 20) was the first to have “inflated” figures for all comparisons. (For a roundup of 2020 traffic, including the pandemic-related impacts, see “AAR: ‘Railroads Looking to the Future.’”)

Carloads and intermodal units came in at 521,731 for the most recent week, which ended March 27. Total carloads increased 6% to 232,561, and intermodal volume grew 25.8% to 289,170 containers and trailers compared with 2020.

Seven of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase vs. the comparable week in 2020. They included motor vehicles and parts, up 8,081 carloads, to 13,515; grain, up 2,320 carloads, to 24,532; and metallic ores and metals, up 1,145 carloads, to 22,020. Commodity groups that posted decreases vs. the same week last year were chemicals, down 656 carloads, to 32,053; petroleum and petroleum products, down 534 carloads, to 10,694; and miscellaneous carloads, down 201 carloads, to 9,341.

For the first 12 weeks of 2021, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 2,681,283 carloads, falling 3.4% from the same point last year; and 3,333,798 intermodal units, rising 11.9% from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 12 weeks of the year was 6,015,081 carloads and intermodal units, a boost of 4.5% vs. 2020.

North American rail volume for the week ending March 27, 2021, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 337,683 carloads, a 4.8% increase compared with the same week in 2020, and 380,050 intermodal units, a 23.8% rise vs. last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 717,733 carloads and intermodal units, up 14.1%. North American rail volume for the first 12 weeks of 2021 was 8,271,302 carloads and intermodal units, a 4.3% increase from 2020.

Canadian railroads reported 83,857 carloads for the week, up 4.9%, and 74,756 intermodal units, up 22.2% from the same point in 2020. For the first 12 weeks of 2021, they reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 1,813,869 carloads, containers and trailers, rising 6.2%.

Mexican railroads reported 21,265 carloads for the week, down 6.7% vs. the same week in 2020, and 16,124 intermodal units, up 0.8%. Cumulative volume for the first 12 weeks of 2021 was 442,352 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, falling 5.5% compared with 2020.

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