U.S. Weekly Rail Traffic Decreases

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has reported that U.S. rail traffic for the week ending March 21, 2020, totaled 459,966 carloads and intermodal units, an 8.6 percent decrease compared to 2019.

U.S. carloads, which totaled 224,048 for the week, were down 5.4 percent compared to the same week last year. U.S. intermodal volume for the week totaled 235,918 units, down 11.4 percent compared to 2019.

John T. Gray, AAR senior vice president, stated, “Demand for rail service depends on the demand further down the chain for the products railroads haul and on the ability of firms they serve to produce what is demanded. Autos are a good example. What with job uncertainty and either voluntary or enforced social distancing for many people, this isn’t a great time to visit new car showrooms, so demand for autos is down. Further, most automakers have suspended manufacturing operations for the time being. As a result of both these factors, rail carloads of autos and auto parts fell considerably this past week.”

“It wouldn’t be surprising to see rail volumes of other categories soften in the weeks ahead as steps taken to limit the spread of COVID-19 continue to impact producers, both here and abroad, particularly those of consumer goods or intermediate products from which those goods are produced,” added Gray. “The good news is that the intermodal volumes of the railroads serving the West Coast ports that receive the bulk of imports from China appear to have plateaued over the last four weeks, indicating that we may have seen the worst of the COVID-19 impacts on the Asia trade.”

Three of the 10 carload commodity groups that are tracked by the AAR posted an increase for the week ending March 21, 2020, when compared with the same week in 2019. Chemicals increased 3,760 carloads, to 34,471, and miscellaneous carloads were up 858 carloads, to 9,747. Farm products, excluding grain and food, increased 507 carloads, to 15,984. 

Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2019 included coal, down 9,223 carloads to 56,093; nonmetallic minerals, down 4,774 carloads, to 30,674; and metallic ores and metals, down 1,427 carloads, to 18,576.

On the 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads, combined North American rail volume for the week ending March 21, 2020, was 639,556 carloads and intermodal units, down 7.7 percent.