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Pandemic's grip on freight-rail traffic continues


U.S. freight-rail traffic continued to decline during the week ending April 25, as most of the country remained locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) announced yesterday.

Total traffic hauled by U.S. railroads fell 22.4 percent to 414,123 carloads and intermodal units during the week compared with the same period in 2019. Railroads logged a combined 192,100 carloads, down 28.2 percent, and 222,013 intermodal containers and trailers, down 16.5 percent.

Only one of the 10 carload commodity groups that AAR tracks every week logged an increase: Miscellaneous carloads rose 151 units to 10,021.

Commodity groups posting decreases included coal, down 32,853 carloads to 48,128; motor vehicles and parts, down 13,562 carloads to 2,235; and metallic ores and metals, down 7,572 carloads, to 17,496.

"With most of the country still firmly locked down, rail volumes are predictably down," said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray in a press release. "Last week, coal accounted for more than 40 percent of the year-over-year decline in total carloads."

For most other commodities that logged carload declines — including motor vehicles, steel, ethanol, petroleum products and more — the pandemic "clearly bears substantial blame during the last few weeks," Gray said.

"It's reasonable to expect rail carload losses derived directly from the virus to begin their return after the crisis passes and as the economy gradually recovers," he added.

Meanwhile, Canadian and Mexican railroads also reported volume declines during the week. Canadian railroads logged 71,689 carloads, down 19.7 percent; and 69,898 intermodal units, down 2.4 percent. Mexican railroads posted 15,429 carloads, down 26.1 percent; and 13,611 intermodal units, down 22.6 percent.

For the first 17 weeks of 2020 compared with the same period a year ago:
• U.S. railroads reported combined traffic of 7,830,340 carloads and intermodal units, down 10.7 percent;
• Canadian railroads reported 2,394,855 carloads and intermodal units, down 5.2 percent;
• Mexican railroads reported 595,932 carloads and intermodal units, down 3.6 percent; and
• North American railroads reported 10,821,127 carloads and intermodal units, down 9.2 percent.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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