U.S. Intermodal Slump Continued in Week 48

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
image description

For the week ending Dec. 4, 2021, U.S. rail traffic fell 2.8% from the same point last year, with an intermodal volume drop cutting a carload gain, the Association of American Railroads reported on Dec. 8.

Week 48 U.S. freight rail traffic came in at 527,406 carloads and intermodal units, decreasing 2.8% from same week in 2020. Total carloads were 255,044, rising 3.9%, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 272,362 containers and trailers, dropping 8.4% compared with 2020.

This is the 18th consecutive week of intermodal losses. (For more, see “AAR: U.S. Carload Traffic Up 7% in 2021.”)

According to AAR, seven of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase for the week ending Dec. 4, 2020, compared with the same week last year. They included nonmetallic minerals, up 4,198 carloads, to 32,916; coal, up 3,284 carloads, to 68,736; and metallic ores and metals, up 2,621 carloads, to 22,526. Commodity groups that posted decreases vs. the same week last year were motor vehicles and parts, down 1,696 carloads, to 14,751; petroleum and petroleum products, down 1,018 carloads, to 10,714; and miscellaneous carloads, down 903 carloads, to 10,428.

For the first 48 weeks of 2021, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 11,129,483 carloads, up 6.9% from the same point last year; and 13,190,024 intermodal units, up 6% from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 48 weeks of 2021 was 24,319,507 carloads and intermodal units, a 6.4% boost over last year.

North American rail volume for the week ending Dec. 4, 2021, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 346,727 carloads, dipping 0.6% vs. the same week last year, and 344,311 intermodal units, dropping 10.8% compared with 2020. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 691,038 carloads and intermodal units, down 6%. North American rail volume for the first 48 weeks of the year was 33,112,479 carloads and intermodal units, up 5.3% from 2020.

Canadian railroads reported 70,735 carloads for the week, falling 16%, and 56,913 intermodal units, sinking 24.3% compared with the same week in 2020. For the first 48 weeks of 2021, they reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 7,044,531 carloads, containers and trailers, up 1.6%.

Mexican railroads reported 20,948 carloads for the week, rising 8.3% from the same week in 2020, and 15,036 intermodal units, increasing 9.1%. Their cumulative volume for the first 48 weeks of the year was 1,748,441 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 4.3% from 2020.

Chart courtesy of Susquehanna Financial Group. Sources: AAR, company reports, SFG Research
“Looking back at over 15 years of U.S. rail data from the start of 2Q to the current week, total carloadings (carload + intermodal) continue to track below historic seasonality with volumes seeing their typical sequential dip during the Thanksgiving holiday,” noted Susquehanna Financial Group (SFG) Analyst Bascome Majors in his Dec. 8 Rail Report. “Breaking it down by very broad end-markets, intermodal volumes continue to drive seasonal weakness driven by supply-side constraints such as labor challenges, slow asset turns and other supply chain bottlenecks. Still, the total AAR numbers … do mask more strength in the 53’ domestic business (JBHT, HUBG, SNDR) vs. 40’ international business (moved for container lines). … Bulk (grain + coal) carloads are now tracking more in line with historic seasonality as strength in coal (sitting at upper end of historic seasonality) is offset by continued seasonal weakness in grain despite sequential improvement from trough. Turning to merchandise traffic, volumes continue to sit in line with historic seasonality despite recent sequential dip from Thanksgiving holiday with strength in chemicals, metallic ores and metals, and forest products offset by weakness in petroleum products and non-metallic minerals and products.”
Tags: , , ,