U.S. Rail Traffic Down 9.3 Percent in March

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has reported that total U.S. rail traffic for March 2020 was 1,835,053 carloads and intermodal units, down 9.3 percent or 187,609 carloads and intermodal units compared with March 2019.

In March 2020, U.S. carload originations totaled 899,673, a decrease of 6 percent, or 57,148 carloads, compared to March of last year. Excluding coal, carloads for the month were down 2 percent, or 13,537 carloads, compared to March 2019. Excluding coal and grain, carloads decreased 2.5 percent, or 15,181 carloads, for the month.

Intermodal volume in March 2020 was down 12.2 percent, or 130,461 units. U.S. railroads originated 935,380 containers and trailers for the month.

In March 2020, 10 of the 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw increases compared with March 2019. Commodities showing the largest increases included chemicals, up 5,881 carloads or 4.6 percent, and all other carloads, up 2,108 carloads or 9.5 percent. Petroleum and petroleum products increased 3.5 percent or 1,688 carloads.

Coal showed the largest decrease in the commodity groups, with a drop of 43,611 carloads or 15.9 percent, and motor vehicles and parts declined 11,053 carloads or 15.9 percent. Crushed stone, sand and gravel decreased 10,482 carloads or 12 percent.

“Rail traffic numbers confirm that the coronavirus is taking a toll on the economy,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “For example, U.S. carloads of autos and auto parts last week were down 70 percent from the same week last year as auto production declined to zero and consumer spending has begun to shrink demand.”

“While intermodal volume last week was down year-over-year 14 percent overall, total movements for the five railroads serving the West Coast ports remained steady for a fifth consecutive week, reinforcing the expectation that we may have seen the bottoming of the Asia-North America trade,” noted Gray. “However, this week also reminded us that the recent collapse in oil prices is hurting rail shipments of petroleum products, frac sand, and steel products.”

“While there remain more unknowns than knowns about the next few months, there are tidbits of encouraging news,” added Gray. “For example, year-over-year carloads of grain were up in March for the first time in a year and March was the best month for rail chemical carloads in two years.”

“In this time of crisis, many people deserve our praise and respect. Our health care professionals, who are on the front lines risking their own lives to save the lives of others, are at the top of that list. But we should also remember that behind the scenes, transportation and logistics providers – railroad, maritime and air cargo operating personnel, truckers, warehouse workers, delivery personnel – are also working tirelessly to supply the goods that we simply could not live without,” Gray concluded.

For the week ending March 28, 2020, a decrease of 11.8 percent was reported in total U.S. rail traffic compared with the same week in 2019. Carloads and intermodal units totaled 449,767.