U.S. Rail Traffic Down 8.1 Percent in February

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has reported that total U.S. rail traffic for February 2020 was 1,924,767 carloads and intermodal units, down 8.1 percent or 169,955 carloads and intermodal units compared with February 2019.

In February 2020, U.S. carload originations totaled 927,084, a decrease of 7.3 percent, or 73,058 carloads, compared to February of last year. Excluding coal, carloads for the month were down 0.8 percent, or 5,288 carloads, compared to February 2019. Excluding coal and grain, carloads increased 0 percent, or 62 carloads, for the month.

Intermodal volume in February 2020 was down 8.9 percent, or 96,897 units. U.S. railroads originated 997,683 containers and trailers for the month.

In February 2020, 10 of the 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw increases compared with February 2019. Commodities showing the largest increases included chemicals, up 3,718 carloads or 2.9 percent, and petroleum & petroleum products, up 3,488 carloads or 7.2 percent. All other carloads increased 12 percent or 2,875 carloads.

Coal showed the largest decrease in the commodity groups, with a drop of 67,770 carloads, or 21.1 percent, and crushed stone, sand and gravel declined 10,557 carloads, or 12.5 percent. Grain decreased 5,350 carloads, or 6.4 percent.

“Total U.S. rail carloads in February were down 7.3 percent driven almost entirely by coal. Excluding coal, carloads in February were down just 0.8 percent, their best showing in a year,” said John T. Gray, AAR senior vice president policy and economics. “In February, 10 of the 20 commodity categories we track saw year-over-year carload gains, the most in more than a year.”

“There’s a huge amount of uncertainty regarding the coronavirus situation, but to date the impact on U.S. rail traffic appears limited,” added Gray. “That could change if, for example, sharp declines projected by U.S. ports occur in the weeks ahead. Supply chain disruptions related directly or indirectly to the coronavirus may have played some unquantifiable role in the decline in U.S. intermodal volumes in February, but intermodal has been falling for more than a year.”

“The headwinds facing railroads that pre-date the virus include lingering trade impacts and economic uncertainty; severe winter weather in parts of the country; blockades in Canada that shut down rail traffic there and impacted domestic traffic too,” concluded Gray.

For the week ending February 29, 2020, a decrease of 9.6 percent was reported in total U.S. rail traffic compared with the same week in 2018. Carloads and intermodal units totaled 477,611.