AAR: May 2021 Traffic Results ‘Encouraging’

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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Intermodal had the “best January to May period ever” and total carloads for May 2021 “were the most for any month since October 2019 on a weekly average basis,” AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray reported on June 2.

U.S. rail volumes for May 2021 were “encouraging,” he noted in the Association of American Railroads’ (AAR) traffic report for May and the week ending May 29.

Of the 20 carload categories AAR tracks each month, 12 had gains over May 2019 and 18 had gains over May 2020. Those 18 included: coal, up 77,228 carloads or 41.7%; motor vehicles and parts, up 34,021 carloads or 206.5%; and chemicals, up 23,368 carloads or 20.8%.

“Railroads hope to build on these gains in the months ahead as they help the economy return to strong, sustainable growth,” Gray said.

Commodities that saw declines in May 2021 from May 2020 included: farm products excluding grain, down 166 carloads or 4.9%; and primary forest products, down 67 carloads or 1.7%.

U.S. railroads originated 964,356 carloads in May 2021, rising 30.4%, or 224,623 carloads, from May 2020, while they originated 1,151,824 containers and trailers, increasing 26.2%, or 238,927 units. Combined, last month’s originations came in at 2,116,180, up 28%, or 463,550 carloads and intermodal units from May 2020.

Excluding coal, carloads were up by 147,395, or 26.6%, in May 2021 from May 2020. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were up by 131,319, or 28%.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first five months of 2021 was 4,827,293 carloads, up 7.3%, or 329,416 carloads, from the same point last year; and 5,945,322 intermodal units, up 19.2%, or 957,198 containers and trailers, from 2020.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 21 weeks of the year was 10,772,615 carloads and intermodal units, a 13.6% boost from 2020.

Week 21 (Ending May 29, 2021)

Total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 530,225 carloads and intermodal units, a 34% gain over the prior-year period.

Total carloads for the week ending May 29 came in at 243,304, up 35.3% compared with the same week in 2020, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 286,921 containers and trailers, up 33% vs. last year.

All 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2020. They included coal, up 20,616 carloads, to 66,651; metallic ores and metals, up 11,742 carloads, to 24,396; and chemicals, up 7,312 carloads, to 34,016.

North American rail volume for the week ending May 29, 2021, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 341,112 carloads, a 28.1% increase vs. the same week last year, and 376,337 intermodal units, a 28.1% rise compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 717,449 carloads and intermodal units, up 28.1%. North American rail volume for the first 21 weeks of 2021 was 14,727,824 carloads and intermodal units, up 12.1% compared with the prior-year period.

Canadian railroads reported 76,598 carloads for the week, up 11.1%, and 72,839 intermodal units, up 15.4% compared with the same point in 2020. For the first 21 weeks of 2021, they reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 3,184,981 carloads, containers and trailers, an 8.7% increase.

Mexican railroads reported 21,210 carloads for the week, rising 21.4% from the year-earlier period, and 16,577 intermodal units, increasing 11%. Their cumulative volume for the first 21 weeks of 2021 was 770,228 carloads plus intermodal containers and trailers, up 7% vs. last year.

For the AAR report on the week ending May 22, 2021, see “Rail Traffic Volumes Hold Steady Through Week 20: AAR.”

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