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Rail Traffic for December and the week ending January 2, 2021

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has reported U.S. rail traffic for the week ending January 2, 2021, as well as volumes for December 2020.

U.S. railroads originated 1,101,324 carloads in December 2020, down 3.7 percent, or 42,666 carloads, from December 2019. U.S. railroads also originated 1,334,495 containers and trailers in December 2020, up 12.2 percent, or 145,126 units, from the same month last year. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in December 2020 were 2,435,819, up 4.4 percent, 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 percent; chemicals, up 5,764 carloads or 3.7 percent; and iron & steel scrap, up 1,913 carloads or 12.9 percent. Commodities that saw declines in December 2020 from December 2019 included: coal, down 50,509 carloads or 14.5 percent; crushed stone, sand & gravel, down 12,333 carloads or 14.8 percent; and petroleum & petroleum products, down 10,386 carloads or 15.8 percent.

“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 7,843 carloads, or 1 percent, in December 2020 from December 2019. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 20,252 carloads, or 2.9 percent.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first 12 months of 2020 was 11,482,059 carloads, down 12.9 percent, or 1,705,963 carloads, from the same period last year; and 13,675,417 intermodal units, down 1.8 percent, or 255,634 containers and trailers, from last year.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 53 weeks of 2020 was 25,157,476 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 7.2 percent compared to last year.

Week Ending January 2, 2021

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

Total carloads for the week ending January 2 were 202,278 carloads, down 6.1 percent compared with the same week in 2019, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 219,713 containers and trailers, up 10.7 percent compared to 2019.

Five of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2019. They included grain, up 5,209 carloads, to 24,790; motor vehicles and parts, up 1,604 carloads, to 8,619; and chemicals, up 557 carloads, to 31,560. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2019 included coal, down 14,805 carloads, to 55,018; nonmetallic minerals, down 3,043 carloads, to 19,773; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 2,791 carloads, to 10,266.

North American rail volume for the week ending January 2, 2021, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 289,037 carloads, down 4.7 percent compared with the same week last year, and 287,041 intermodal units, up 8.1 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 576,078 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.3 percent. North American rail volume for the first 53 weeks of 2020 was 34,610,470 carloads and intermodal units, down 6.7 percent compared with 2019.

Canadian railroads reported 74,166 carloads for the week, down 2.7 percent, and 58,241 intermodal units, up 3.3 percent compared with the same week in 2019. For the first 53 weeks of 2020, Canadian railroads reported a cumulative rail traffic volume of 7,637,891 carloads, containers, and trailers, down 4.1 percent.

Mexican railroads reported 12,593 carloads for the week, up 10.1 percent compared with the same week last year, and 9,087 intermodal units, down 16 percent. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 53 weeks of 2020 was 1,815,103 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, down 9.8 percent from the same point last year.

Click here to view the U.S. Rail Traffic reports.