Friday, January 08, 2021

AAR: December Rail Carloads down 3.7% YoY, Intermodal Up 12.2% YoY

by Calculated Risk on 1/08/2021 03:04:00 PM

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

U.S. rail traffic left something to be desired in 2020 — no surprise, of course, given the pandemic — but traffic finished the year reasonably strong.

In December 2020, U.S. rail intermodal volume was up 12.2% over December 2019, its biggest monthly gain since February 2016. ... For all of 2020, U.S. intermodal originations were 13.46 million containers and trailers — the fourth highest annual total in history (behind 2017, 2018, and 2019) and down 2.0% (276,904 units) from 2019.
...
Total U.S. carloads (not including intermodal) were 11.28 million in 2020, down 13.0% (1.69 million carloads) from 2019 and easily the lowest annual total since sometime before 1988, when our data begin. ... U.S. carloads excluding coal were down 7.9% in 2020 from 2019, though they were up 1.0% in December 2020 over December 2019. That’s their first year-over-year monthly gain in nearly two years.
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:
In December, total carloads were down 3.7%, their smallest monthly decline since May 2019. Still, average weekly carloads in December 2020 (220,265) were the lowest for December since our records begin.
Rail TrafficThe second graph shows the six week average of U.S. intermodal in 2018, 2019 and 2020: (using intermodal or shipping containers):
In December 2020, intermodal was up 12.2% over December 2019, its biggest monthly percentage gain since February 2016. Week 50, the second of the five weeks in December 2020, was the highest volume U.S. intermodal week ever. Five other weeks in 2020, all since week 43, are in the all-time intermodal top 10.
Note that rail traffic was weak prior to the pandemic, and intermodal has come back strong and was only down 2% annually compared to 2019.