For the week ending Nov. 26, 2022 (Week 47), total U.S. rail traffic was down 4.1% compared with the same week last year, the Association of American Railroads’ (AAR) reported on Nov. 30. Traffic was down 21% compared with the same week in pre-pandemic 2019, according to Susquehanna Financial Group (SFG) Analyst Bascome Majors.
U.S. rail traffic came in at 413,305 carloads and intermodal units for the week ending Nov. 26, 2022. This comprises 206,792 carloads, down 1.1% from the same week in 2021, and 206,513 containers and trailers, down 6.9% from 2021, according to AAR.
SFG’s Majors found that the four-week trend for rail volumes was down 3% from 2021 and down 7% from 2019 (see SFG chart, above). According to Majors’ analysis, intermodal for the week ending Nov. 26, 2022, was down 24% from 2019, and the four-week trend for intermodal was down 8% from 2019.
“As many economists predicted, 2022 is ending with a slowdown in certain business sectors,” independent railway economist and Railway Age Contributing Editor Jim Blaze observed. “Readers are encouraged to take heed of changes when the year-over-year or the current year-to-date versus a base year of 2019 is cited.
“Near double-digit to near 20% changes are clear soft points in the economy that particularly certain bulk carload commodities and some intermodal business (like trailers of flat cars) are taking a hit.
“There are a few exceptions. Finished automobiles is one where the OEM car builders are now seeing less shortages of critical car components (including car computer chips). Improvements as the year ends in the movement of stone and gravel suggests a combination of more robust frack sand use (energy production) and construction project work within the economy.
“Nothing that is alarming. But plenty that reflects how forecasting rail traffic trends takes a lot of detail examination. Wherein some of the percentage shifts are ‘eye popping.’”
Four of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase for the week ending Nov. 26, 2022, compared with the same week in 2021, according to AAR. They included miscellaneous carloads, up 4,015 carloads, to 10,410; motor vehicles and parts, up 1,516 carloads, to 12,199; and metallic ores and metals, up 299 carloads, to 18,552. Commodity groups that posted declines included grain, down 3,354 carloads, to 20,261; coal, down 2,211 carloads, to 61,740; and chemicals, down 1,854 carloads, to 28,184.
For the first 47 weeks of 2022, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 10,892,805 carloads, up 0.2% from the prior-year period; and 12,298,102 intermodal units, down 4.8% from 2021. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 47 weeks of 2022 was 23,190,907 carloads and intermodal units, a 2.5% dip from the same point in 2021.
North American rail volume for the week ending Nov. 26, 2022, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 311,026 carloads, a 4.4% gain over the same week last year, and 283,638 intermodal units, a 0.3% increase from last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 594,664 carloads and intermodal units, rising 2.4%. North American rail volume for the first 47 weeks of 2022 was 31,825,338 carloads and intermodal units, a 1.9% decrease compared with 2021.
Canadian railroads reported 84,179 carloads for the week, a 25.8% boost, and 63,444 intermodal units, a 37.8% increase from the prior-year period. For the first 47 weeks of 2022, they reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 6,863,728 carloads, containers and trailers, down 0.9%.
Mexican railroads reported 20,055 carloads for the week, an 8% drop-off from the same week in 2021, and 13,681 intermodal units, a 9% decrease. Their cumulative volume for the first 47 weeks of 2022 was 1,770,703 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, rising 3.4% from the same week in 2021.