Slower Traffic Growth Pattern Continues

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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For the week ending June 26, 2021, total U.S. rail traffic was 516,167 carloads and intermodal units, increasing 12.4% from the prior-year period, the Association of American Railroads reported on June 30. That included 237,117 carloads (up 17.7% vs. 2020) and 279,050 containers and trailers (up 8.2% vs. 2020).

It is the fourth consecutive week that U.S traffic totals were up similarly from the same point in 2020. In May, U.S. weekly totals saw gains of about 25% to 35% over 2020. 

For comparison, following are the traffic figures for the past seven weeks:

• For the week ending June 19, 2020, total U.S. Rail traffic was 514,112 carloads and intermodal units (a 12.5% rise from the same week in 2020), with 232,144 carloads (up 15.1% vs. 2020) and 281,968 containers and trailers.
• For the week ending June 12, 2021, total U.S. rail traffic reached 529,635 carloads and intermodal units (a 17.9% increase from the prior-year period), including 241,628 carloads (up 21.8% from 2020) and 288,007 containers and trailers (up 14.8% from 2020).
•  For the week ending June 5, 2021, total U.S. rail traffic was 489,144 carloads and intermodal units (up 12.9% from the same point in 2020), with 227,497 carloads (rising 18.1% from 2020) and 261,647 containers and trailers (increasing 8.7% from 2020).
• For the week ending May 29, 2021, total U.S. rail traffic came in at 530,225 carloads and intermodal units (a 34% gain over the prior-year period), including 243,304 carloads (up 35.3% vs. 2020) and 286,921 intermodal units (up 33% vs. 2020).
• For the week ending May 22, 2021, total U.S. rail traffic was 528,774 (up 23.4% from the same point in 2020), with 242,227 carloads (a 27.2% increase) and 286,547 containers and trailers (a 20.4% boost).
• For the week ending May 15, 2021, total U.S. rail traffic was 533,872 (up 28.3% from the same week last year), including 242,806 carloads (up 31.6%) and 291,066 intermodal containers and trailers (up 25.6%).
• For the week ending May 8, 2021, total U.S. rail traffic reached 523,309 (a 26.9% increase over the comparable 2020 period), with 236,019 carloads (up 27.6%) and 287,290 intermodal units (up 26.3%).

AAR’s current report noted that percentage changes for some rail traffic categories for the week ending June 26, 2021 vs. the same week in 2020 are “inflated.” This is due to the widespread pandemic-related “shutdowns—and subsequent large reduction in rail volumes—that impacted many economic sectors last year at this time.” The AAR first included this statement in its March 24, 2021 report, when it provided data on the week ending March 20, 2021, marking one year of COVID-19-related traffic disruption.

For the week ending June 26, 2021, nine of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase vs. the same week in 2020. They included coal, up 15,472 carloads, to 66,595; metallic ores and metals, up 8,814 carloads, to 23,869; and nonmetallic minerals, up 3,756 carloads, to 33,067. Only motor vehicles and parts posted a decline vs. the same week in 2020. This commodity group was down 717 carloads, to 12,662.

For the first 25 weeks of 2021, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 5,765,679 carloads, rising 8.9% over the prior-year period; and 7,055,994 intermodal units, increasing 17.7% over 2020. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 25 weeks of 2021 was 12,821,673 carloads and intermodal units, up 13.6% compared with last year.

North American rail volume for the week ending June 26, 2021, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 335,765 carloads, a 14.4% increase over the same week last year, and 367,561 intermodal units, an 8.8% boost from last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 703,326 carloads and intermodal units, up 11.4%. North American rail volume for the first 25 weeks of the year was 17,508,746 carloads and intermodal units, up 12.1% vs. 2020.

Canadian railroads reported 77,699 carloads for the week, gaining 8.3%, and 71,867 intermodal units, rising 11.8% compared with the same week in 2020. For the first 25 weeks of 2021, they reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 3,784,949 carloads, containers and trailers, increasing 9%.

Mexican railroads reported 20,949 carloads for the week, up 2.9% compared with the same week last year, and 16,644 intermodal units, up 6.9%. Their cumulative volume for the first 25 weeks of 2021 was 902,124 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 4.3% from the comparable period last year.

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