Friday, November 06, 2020

AAR: October Rail Carloads down 6.6% YoY, Intermodal Up 10.0% YoY

by Calculated Risk on 11/06/2020 02:33:00 PM

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

Back in April 2020, when the U.S. economy was basically in a coma, U.S. intermodal originations averaged 219,085 units per week. That was the fewest for any month in more than seven years and the fewest for April in ten years. Back then, no one would have thought that six months later, in October 2020, U.S. railroads would have their best intermodal month in history. Yet that’s where we are: U.S. railroads originated an average of 292,469 containers and trailers per week in October 2020, more than ever before and up a stunning 33.5% over April 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:
Total U.S. carloads are trending higher, but at a much slower pace than in July and August. U.S. railroads originated an average of 228,193 total carloads per week in October 2020, the most since February 2020 but down 6.6% from October 2019. The 6.6% year-over-year decline is the smallest since the pandemic began.

For the first 10 months of 2020, total carloads were 9.48 million, down 14.5% (1.61 million carloads) from the first 10 months of 2019.
Rail TrafficThe second graph shows the six week average of U.S. intermodal in 2018, 2019 and 2020: (using intermodal or shipping containers):
In the 31 years from 1989 to 2019, October was the top U.S. rail intermodal month (in terms of average weekly originations) 25 times. This year will make 26. In October 2020, U.S. railroads originated an average of 292,469 containers and trailers per week, up 10.0% over October 2019 and the highest weekly average for any month in history. (The previous record was 289,994 in June 2018.) The weekly average in October 2020 was 33.5% higher than in April 2020, when they averaged just 219,085 units. That’s the biggest six-month gain in history. Few would have expected that six months ago.
Note that rail traffic was weak prior to the pandemic, and intermodal has come back strong.