Following a Week 47 gain attributable to timing—Thanksgiving 2018 falling one week earlier than in 2019—U.S. rail traffic fell off a cliff during Week 48—again, attributable to timing, so it’s not nearly as bad as it looks. However, all things considered, volumes for November 2019 were dismal, and the first 11 months of 2019 were nothing to write home about.
“Rail traffic continues to struggle because U.S. manufacturing is soft, trade disputes and the uncertainty they entail are ongoing, and economic growth abroad isn’t what it could be,” said Association of American Railroads Senior Vice President Policy and Economics John T. Gray. “That said, we’re confident that rail volumes will begin to grow again as the manufacturing portion of the economy finds firmer footing.”
U.S. railroads originated 955,579 carloads in November 2019, down 7.5% or 77,166 carloads, from November 2018. U.S. railroads also originated 1,019,766 containers and trailers in November 2019, down 7.4% or 81,138 units, from the same month last year. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in November 2019 were 1,975,345, down 7.4% or 158,304 carloads and intermodal units from November 2018.
In November 2019, only three of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by AAR saw carload gains compared with November 2018: Stone, Clay and Glass Products, up 1,163 carloads or 4.1%; All Other Carloads, up 659 carloads or 2.7%; and Primary Forest Products, up 143 carloads or 3.4%. Among the commodities that saw declines in November 2019 from November 2018 included were Coal, down 49,419 carloads or 14.5%; Crushed Stone, Sand and Gravel, down 6,920 carloads or 8.4%; and Primary Metal Products, down 5,447 carloads or 15.1%.
Excluding coal, carloads were down 27,747 carloads, or 4%, in November 2019 from November 2018. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 26,887 carloads, or 4.5%.
Week 48, Ending Nov. 30, 2019
The huge weekly U.S. volume drops compared to the previous year, reported below, are largely attributable to the Thanksgiving holiday, which came one week earlier in 2018:
Total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 436,900 carloads and intermodal units, down 23% compared with the same week last year. Total carloads for the week were 215,126, down 21.3% compared with the same week in 2018, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 221,774 containers and trailers, down 24.5% compared to 2018. None of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2018. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2018 included coal, down 20,027 carloads, to 67,858; nonmetallic minerals, down 10,328 carloads, to 23,948; and chemicals, down 7,286 carloads, to 27,694.
North American rail volume for the week ending Nov. 30, 2019, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 305,507 carloads, down 20.3% compared with the same week last year, and 307,219 intermodal units, down 19.7% compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 612,726 carloads and intermodal units, down 20%.
Canadian railroads reported 70,684 carloads for the week, down 20.2%, and 68,616 intermodal units, down 3% compared with the same week in 2018.
Mexican railroads reported 19,697 carloads for the week, down 7% compared with the same week last year, and 16,829 intermodal units, down 7.9%.
Total U.S. carload traffic for the first 11 months of 2019 was 12,044,302 carloads, down 4.6% or 574,287 carloads, from the same period last year; and 12,741,636 intermodal units, down 4.7% or 635,001 containers and trailers, from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 48 weeks of 2019 was 24,785,938 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 4.7% compared to last year.
North American rail volume for the first 48 weeks of 2019 was 33,846,755 carloads and intermodal units, down 3.6% compared with 2018. Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 7,248,142 carloads, containers and trailers, down 0.3%. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 48 weeks of 2019 was 1,812,675 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, down 2.7% from the same point last year.