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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Winter storms slowed February rail traffic


Old Man Winter took a bite out of rail traffic last month, as U.S. railroads posted a 4.4% decrease in combined carload and intermodal volume compared with February 2020's level, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

U.S. railroads moved 824,636 carloads in February, down 11.1%, and originated 1,015,995 containers and trailers, up 1.8%, from the same month last year, AAR reported in a press release. Combined, February's freight-rail traffic amounted to 1,840,631 carloads and intermodal units.

Only three of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month logged gains. They were grain, up 15.7%; pulp and paper products, up 2.8%; and metallic ores, up 1.4%.

Commodities that posted decreases included coal, down 12.5%; crushed stone, sand and gravel, down 33%; and motor vehicles and parts, down 20.4%.

Last month's harsh winter weather wreaked havoc on all forms of transportation, including rail, said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray.

"In fact, the total U.S. rail carloads in the third week of February were the lowest for any week in AAR's records that go back to 1988," Gray said. "While carloads rebounded during the last week to a more typical level, February ended with noticeably lower total volumes."

On the plus side, both intermodal and grain traffic remained "relatively strong" during three weeks in February, Gray added.

Combined U.S. traffic for the first eight weeks of 2021 totaled 3,944,154 carloads and intermodal units, a 0.6% increase compared with the same period a year ago.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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