Total U.S. rail traffic came in at 513,325 carloads and intermodal units for the week ending March 20, an “inflated” 11.6% increase over the same period last year when the pandemic caused “widespread economy-wide shutdowns—and [a] subsequent large reduction in rail volumes,” the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported March 24.
All traffic comparisons of the current week with the same week in 2020 are higher for this reason, AAR noted. (For a roundup of 2020 traffic, including the pandemic-related impacts, see “AAR: ‘Railroads Looking to the Future.’”)
Total rail traffic for the week ending March 13, however, was similar at 520,736, including 230,684 total carloads and 290,052 containers and trailers. Both segments saw growth following February’s winter-weather challenges.
For the week ending March 20, there were 230,605 total carloads, up 2.9% vs. the comparable week in 2020, and U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 282,720 containers and trailers, up 19.8% from the same point last year.
Five of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2020. They included grain, up 6,332 carloads, to 27,332; coal, up 3,670 carloads, to 59,816; and metallic ores and metals, up 1,977 carloads, to 20,567. Commodity groups that posted decreases vs. the same week last year included chemicals, down 2,960 carloads, to 31,540; nonmetallic minerals, down 1,497 carloads, to 29,177; and motor vehicles and parts, down 952 carloads, to 14,927.
For the first 11 weeks of 2021, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 2,448,722 carloads, a decline of 4.3% from the same point last year; and 3,044,628 intermodal units, a rise of 10.7% from 2020. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 11 weeks of the year was 5,493,350 carloads and intermodal units, a 3.5% increase vs. last year.
Total North American rail volume for the week ending March 20, 2021, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads came in at 332,173 carloads, up 0.7% compared with the same week last year, and 371,385 intermodal units, up 18.8% compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 703,558 carloads and intermodal units, up 9.5 percent. North American rail volume for the first 11 weeks of 2021 was 7,553,569 carloads and intermodal units, up 3.4 percent compared with 2020.
Canadian railroads reported 81,088 carloads for the week, down 3.6%, and 73,409 intermodal units, up 20.4% vs. the same week in 2020. For the first 11 weeks of 2021, they reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 1,655,256 carloads, containers and trailers, rising 5.7%.
Mexican railroads reported 20,480 carloads for the week, a decline of 5.6% vs. the comparable week in 2020, and 15,256 intermodal units, a decrease of 2.9%. Cumulative volume for the first 11 weeks of the year was 404,963 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, down 5.7% from the same point last year.