Rail Traffic ‘Mixed Bag’ Continues in November

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
(Photograph Courtesy of Norfolk Southern)

(Photograph Courtesy of Norfolk Southern)

In reporting U.S. rail traffic for the week ending Dec. 3, 2022, and volumes for November 2022, AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray said, “As has been the case for months, some sectors continue to show strength while others face headwinds.”

“For example, relatively slow lumber carloads are consistent with the weak market for new home construction,” Gray pointed out. “Conversely, rail-hauled motor vehicles and vehicle parts volumes have been rising as automakers have increased output thanks to greater parts availability.”

He noted that “Thanksgiving week is one of the lowest-volume weeks of the year for rail traffic, which means November rail volumes frequently do not clearly demonstrate underlying sequential trends.”

November 2022

According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), U.S. Class I railroads hauled 1,162,736 carloads in November 2022, down 0.9%, or 10,437 carloads, from the same month last year; and 1,230,291 containers and trailers, down 5.4%, or 70,107 units, from November 2021. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations last month came in at 2,393,027, down 3.3%, or 80,544 carloads and intermodal units, from November 2021.

In November 2022, eight of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with November 2021. These included crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 8,726 carloads or 9.2%; motor vehicles and parts, up 5,372 carloads or 8.3%; and all other carloads, up 2,579 carloads or 10%. Commodities that saw declines included chemicals, down 17,608 carloads or 10.3%; grain, down 3,757 carloads or 3%; and pulp and paper products, down 1,993 carloads or 7.2%.

Excluding coal, carloads dipped by 12,153 carloads, or 1.4%, in November 2022 from November 2021. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down by 8,396 carloads, or 1.2%.

Total U.S. rail traffic also dropped during the previous three months of 2022:

How do the November 2022 rail traffic results compare with those of November 2021, 2020 and 2019? Let’s review:

Year to Date 2022

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first 11 months of 2022 was 11,134,112 carloads, up 0%, or 4,475 carloads, from the same period last year, according to AAR, and 12,552,267 intermodal units, down 4.8%, or 637,473 containers and trailers, from the year-ago period.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 48 weeks of 2022 was 23,686,379 carloads and intermodal units, a 2.6% decrease from 2021. 

Week 48 (Ending Dec. 3, 2022)

Total U.S. weekly rail traffic came in at 495,472 carloads and intermodal units for the week ending Dec. 3, 2022, falling 6% from the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week were 241,307 carloads, decreasing 5.4% from the same point in 2021, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 254,165 containers and trailers, dropping 6.7% compared with 2021.

Three of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2021. They were coal, up 475 carloads, to 69,107; motor vehicles and parts, up 229 carloads, to 15,044; and farm products excluding grain, and food, up 94 carloads, to 17,709. Commodity groups that posted decreases included chemicals, down 10,232 carloads*, to 28,290; grain, down 2,018 carloads, to 26,212; and forest products, down 901 carloads, to 9,666.

* AAR reported that chemical carloads in week 48 “were impacted by a one-time make-whole adjustment by a major railroad that incorporated downward revisions in chemical carloads on that railroad for many previous weeks. The net result was a several-thousand reduction in chemical carloads in week 48 compared to a typical week.”

North American rail volume for the week ending Dec. 3, 2022, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 344,150 carloads, down 0.6% from the same week last year, and 333,927 intermodal units, down 2.8% from last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 678,077 carloads and intermodal units, down 1.7%. North American rail volume for the first 48 weeks of 2022 came in at 32,505,576 carloads and intermodal units, down 1.9% from the same point last year.

Canadian railroads reported 81,830 carloads for the week ending Dec. 3, 2022, a 15.1% boost, and 64,023 intermodal units, a 12.7% gain over the same week in 2021. For the first 48 weeks of this year, they reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 7,009,581 carloads, containers and trailers, down 0.6%.

Mexican railroads reported 21,013 carloads for the week ending Dec. 3, 2022, rising 4.6% from the same week last year, and 15,739 intermodal units, increasing 9.8%. Their cumulative volume for the first 48 weeks of 2022 came in at 1,809,616 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 3.6% from the prior-year period.

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