United States rail carload and intermodal volumes, for the week of December 11 were mixed, according to data issued this week by the Association of American Railroads (AAR).
Rail carloads—at 239,029—were off 0.3% annually, trailing the week December 4, at 255,044, and topping the week ending November 27, at 209,091.
AAR observed that five of the 10 carload commodity groups it tracks saw annual gains, including: nonmetallic minerals, up 2,982 carloads, to 31,052; coal, up 2,979 carloads, to 66,762; and chemicals, up 2,706 carloads, to 35,297. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2020 included motor vehicles and parts, down 3,660 carloads, to 13,953; grain, down 3,508 carloads, to 24,876; and miscellaneous carloads, down 516 carloads, to 9,459.
Intermodal containers and trailers—at 274,337—saw a 10.9% annual decrease, topping the week ending December 4, at 272,362, and the week ending November 27, at 221,702.
Through the first 48 weeks of 2021, AAR reported that U.S. rail carloads—at 11,368,512—are up 6.8% annually, and intermodal units—at 13,464,361—are up 5.6% annually.
AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies said at the recent RailTrends conference in New York hosted by Progressive Railroading magazine and independent railroad analyst Anthony Hatch that carload and intermodal volumes are getting back to equilibrium and hopefully can crank up the economy a little bit more.
“There has been a pretty significant decline in auto movements on rail due to the semiconductor shortage,” he said. Overall, I think the industry is performing at a solid level, there are opportunities to grow more and grow intermodal and pull more trucks off of the highway.”
In the most recent edition of the AAR’s “Rail Time Indicators” report, the AAR described U.S. rail volumes as “neither great nor terrible—sort of like when a football game involving your favorite team ends in a tie.”
Looking back at the month of November, the report said that U.S. rail carloads—at 917,787— were up 2.0%, its ninth straight gain, and also its smallest percentage gain over that period. And leading up to the nine months of increases, rail carloads had been down for a stretch of 25 months.
On the intermodal side, November’s volume—at 1.03 million containers and trailers—were off 9.6% annually and have been down annually for four straight months. AAR said that the 9.6% decline is the steepest one over that period.