Week 28: Rail Traffic Ahead of ’20, Down from ’19

However, rail volumes for week 28 were down 3% compared with the same week in 2019, Susquehanna Financial Group Analyst Bascome Majors noted in a July 21 railroad industry update report. The four-week trend, he added, was up 9% from 2020, but down 2% vs. 2019 (see chart below). Recovery isn’t complete yet.

TRAILING 4-WEEK AVERAGE U.S. CLASS I RAILROAD CARLOADINGS – ABSOLUTE WEEKLY TOTALS (Chart courtesy of Susquehanna Financial Group. Sources: AAR, company reports, SFG Research)

AAR reiterated that the percent changes in some rail traffic categories for the current week vs. the same week in 2020 are “inflated because of the widespread shutdowns—and subsequent large reduction in rail volumes—that impacted many economic sectors last year at this time.”

The association reported that total U.S. Class I carloads came in at 235,303 for the week ending July 17, up 9.7% from the same point in 2020; intermodal volume was 277,952 containers and trailers, up 4.1%.

Five of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase from the same week in 2020. They included coal, up 13,057 carloads, to 69,186; metallic ores and metals, up 7,207 carloads, to 22,975; and chemicals, up 2,785 carloads, to 32,784. Commodity groups that posted decreases vs. the prior-year period included motor vehicles and parts, down 1,750 carloads, to 12,049; grain, down 1,384 carloads, to 20,964; and farm products excluding grain, and food, down 175 carloads, to 15,593.

For the first 28 weeks of this year, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 6,448,125 carloads, rising 9.3% from the same week in 2020; and 7,851,547 intermodal units, increasing 16.3% from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 28 weeks of 2021 was 14,299,672 carloads and intermodal units, a 13% boost from 2020.  

For the week ending July 17, 2021, North American rail volume on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 325,978 carloads, up 6.7% vs. the same point in 2020, and 358,333 intermodal units, up 2.7%. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 684,311 carloads and intermodal units, up 4.6% compared with last year. North American rail volume for the first 28 weeks of 2021 was 19,493,039 carloads and intermodal units, up 11.4% from 2020.

Canadian railroads reported 70,017 carloads for the current week, decreasing 3.5%, and 63,748 intermodal units, falling 5.7% compared with the same week in 2020. For the first 28 weeks of 2021, they reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 4,171,704 carloads, containers and trailers, growing 7.6%.

Mexican railroads reported 20,658 carloads for the week, an increase of 13.2% vs. the same week in 2020, and 16,633 intermodal units, a boost of 15.7%. Their cumulative volume for the first 28 weeks of 2021 was 1,021,663 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 6.1% compared with last year.

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