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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

U.S. freight-rail traffic plunges 22 percent in a week


The COVID-19 pandemic's impact on all business sectors continues to be reflected in U.S. freight-rail traffic numbers, with railroads logging 412,503 carloads and intermodal units during the week ending April 11, a 21.9 percent decrease compared with the same week in 2019, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

Total carloads for the week were 198,726 units, down 23.8 percent. Intermodal volume was 213,777 containers and trailers, down 20 percent.

Only one of the 10 carload commodity groups that AAR tracks on a weekly basis posted an increase: Grain was up 595 carloads to 22,237. Volumes for the other commodity groups included coal, down 29,609 carloads to 52,468; motor vehicles and parts, down 15,521 carloads to 2,185; and metallic ores and metals, down 5,982 carloads to 17,949.

"The pandemic is affecting firms in every industry, and railroads are no exception," said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray in a press release. "When rail customers suffer a drop in demand for their products, their need for transportation services declines as well, and that negatively impacts rail volumes."

Still, railroads are moving massive amounts of freight, including chemicals, food and manufactured goods, Gray said.

Once the public health crisis ends, "railroads will be ready to ramp up their service" to meet the nation's freight transportation needs, he added.

Meanwhile, Canadian railroads posted 73,556 carloads for the week ending April 11, down 13.6 percent; and 66,088 intermodal units, down 10.6 percent compared with the same week in 2019. Mexican railroads logged 16,433 carloads, down 26 percent; and 11,482 intermodal containers and trailers, down 31.7 percent.

For the first 15 weeks of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019:
• U.S. railroads reported 7,012,934 carloads and intermodal units, down 9.1 percent;
• Canadian railroads reported 2,116,131 carloads and intermodal units, down 4.3 percent; and
• Mexican railroads reported 537,739 carloads and intermodal units, down 1.7 percent.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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