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AAR: Many rail traffic categories have recovered from pandemic's impact


A number of rail commodity traffic categories have “completely recovered” ground lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in April were 2,125,792, up 29.1 percent, or 478,818 carloads and intermodal units from April 2020, according to AAR data. Seventeen of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with April 2020. 

Categories that logged gains included: coal, up 55,929 carloads or 28.7%; motor vehicles and parts, up 38,891 carloads or 465.9%; and chemicals, up 17,201 carloads or 14.8%. Commodities that posted declines last month were crushed stone, sand & gravel, down 823 carloads or 1%; primary forest products, down 124 carloads or 2.9%; and farm products excluding grain, down 74 carloads or 1.9%.

Many categories have recovered or are close to doing so, said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray in a press release.

“For example, April set a new all-time record for intermodal, driven by surging international trade and strong consumer spending,” Gray said. “Meanwhile, carloads of grain, food, lumber, paper, scrap metal and several other categories were higher in April 2021 than they were in both April 2020 and in April 2019. Carloads of chemicals and steel in April 2021 were much higher than last year and just shy of April 2019 levels.”

Excluding coal, carloads were up 126,131 carloads, or 21.9%, last month versus the year-ago period. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were up 109,124 carloads, or 22.4%.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first four months of 2021 was 3,862,937 carloads, up 2.8%, or 104,793 carloads, from the same period last year; and 4,793,498 intermodal units, up 17.6%, or 718,271 containers and trailers.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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