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AAR releases latest US and North American rail traffic data

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Dry Bulk,

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has reported its US and North American rail traffic data for the week ending 2 January 2021, as well as volumes for December 2020.

December 2020

According to the AAR report, US railroads originated 1.10 million carloads in December 2020 (down 3.7%, or 42,666 carloads, from December 2019). US railroads also reportedly originated 1.33 million containers and trailers in December 2020 (up 12.2%, or 145 126 units, from the same month last year). Combined US carload and intermodal originations in December 2020 amounted to 2.43 million (up 4.4%, or 102 460 carloads and intermodal units, from December 2019).

In December 2020, 10 of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with December 2019. These included: grain (up 28 095 carloads or 27.9%); chemicals (up 5764 carloads or 3.7%); and iron & steel scrap (up 1913 carloads or 12.9%). Commodities that saw declines in December 2020 from December 2019 included: coal (down 50 509 carloads or 14.5%); crushed stone, sand, and gravel (down 12 333 carloads or 14.8%); and petroleum and petroleum products (down 10 386 carloads or 15.8%).

“Before the pandemic even hit, railroads began 2020 on less than ideal footing because of weakness in the manufacturing sector and lower port activity caused by trade disputes,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “For several months earlier this year, railroads suffered near-record traffic declines, but they worked hard to keep the goods we all need moving. By the end of the year, rail traffic was close to pre-pandemic levels, sparked by sharply higher grain and intermodal shipments along with the reopening of auto assembly plants.”

“It’s no surprise that rail volumes were down for the year overall, but railroads are looking to the future,” Gray added. “Their experience in 2020 along with huge ongoing network investments have made the industry more adaptable and better able to adjust to the demands of a wide range of operational and market conditions. Railroads are well prepared to help our economy grow in 2021.”

Excluding coal, carloads were up 7843 carloads, or 1.0%, in December 2020 from December 2019. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 20 252 carloads, or 2.9%.

Total US carload traffic for the first 12 months of 2020 was 11.48 million carloads (down 12.9%, or 1.70 million carloads, from the same period last year); and 13.67 million intermodal units (down 1.8%, or 255 634 containers and trailers, from last year).

Total combined US traffic for the first 53 weeks of 2020 was 25.15 million carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 7.2% compared to last year.

Week ending 2 January 2021

Because of the way the days fell in 2020, there were 53 Weekly Railroad Traffic reports for 2020. Year-over-year weekly comparisons are always made to the week that was 52 weeks earlier, therefore, week 53 2020 (ending on 2 January 2021) will be compared to week 1 2020 ending on 4 January 2020.

For cumulative comparisons, 2020 will include week 1 to week 53 2020 and will be compared to the period from week 1 2019 to week 1 2020 (ending on 4 January 4 2020).

Total US weekly rail traffic was 421 991 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.9% compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending January 2 amounted to 202 278 carloads (down 6.1% compared with week 1 in 2020), while US weekly intermodal volumes amounted to 219 713 containers and trailers (up 10.7% compared to week 1 in 2020).

Five of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with week 1 in 2020. They included grain (up 5209 carloads to 24 790); motor vehicles and parts (up 1604 carloads to 8619); and chemicals (up 557 carloads to 31 560). Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with week 1 in 2020 included coal (down 14 805 carloads to 55 018); non-metallic minerals (down 3043 carloads to 19 773); and petroleum and petroleum products (down 2791 carloads, to 10 266).

North American rail volumes for the week ending 2 January 2021, based on the data from of 12 reporting US, Canadian, and Mexican railroads totalled 289 037 carloads (down 4.7% compared with week 1 in 2020), and 287 041 intermodal units (up 8.1% compared with last year). Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 576 078 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.3%. North American rail volume for the first 53 weeks of 2020 was 34.6 million carloads and intermodal units (down 6.7%).

Canadian railroads reported 74 166 carloads for the week (down 2.7%), and 58 241 intermodal units (up 3.3% compared with week 1 in 2020). For the first 53 weeks of 2020, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 7.63 million carloads, containers, and trailers (down 4.1%).

Mexican railroads reported 12 593 carloads for the week (up 10.1% compared with week 1 in 2020), and 9087 intermodal units (down 16.0%). Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 53 weeks of 2020 was 1.81 million carloads and intermodal containers and trailers (down 9.8%).

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