Thursday, October 08, 2020

AAR: September Rail Carloads down 9.7% YoY, Intermodal Up 7.1% YoY

by Calculated Risk on 10/08/2020 03:32:00 PM

From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators. Graphs and excerpts reprinted with permission.

U.S. rail volumes in September ranged from “generally getting better” to “already pretty good.”

On the “already pretty good” side, average weekly U.S. intermodal originations in September were 284,777 units. That’s the fourth most for any month in history and up 7.1% over September 2019 ...

U.S. rail carloads are in the “generally getting better” category. Total carloads in September were down 9.7% from last year. That’s still a sizable decline, to be sure, but it’s the smallest since March 2020.
emphasis added
Rail Traffic Click on graph for larger image.

This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows the six week average of U.S. Carloads in 2018, 2019 and 2020:
On the carload side, volumes are still down, but by less than they were. U.S. railroads originated an average of 223,909 total carloads per week in September 2020. That’s their lowest weekly average for September since sometime before 1988 (when our data begin). That said, total carloads in September 2020 were down 9.7% from September 2019 — their smallest monthly year-over-year percentage decline since March 2020, when the lockdowns began.
Rail TrafficThe second graph shows the six week average of U.S. intermodal in 2018, 2019 and 2020: (using intermodal or shipping containers):
Like nearly every other rail category, intermodal fell sharply in the spring — it was down 12.6% in Q2 2020, including a 17.2% decline in April.

A few months later, things are very different. U.S. railroads originated 1.31 million containers and trailers in September 2020, up 7.1% over September 2019 — the biggest year-over-year percentage gain for intermodal since December 2016.
Why the change? U.S. imports of consumer goods are surging — they set an all-time monthly record in August 2020, with China supplying a huge share of them. After stalling in the spring, China’s export machine has come roaring back.
Note that rail traffic was weak prior to the pandemic.