Intermodal Traffic Set Record in October

U.S. rail intermodal traffic set a record in October while carload traffic in half of the categories tracked by the American Association of Railroads increased.

AAR reported this week that overall traffic volume increased 2 percent during the month with railroads handling 2,082,646 carloads and intermodal units.

Railroads handled 1,169,874 containers and trailers, up 10 percent, and 912,772 carloads, down 6.6 percent. The comparisons are with October 2019.

AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray said the intermodal volume for October 2020 set a monthly record.

Gray noted that rail intermodal volume has risen by a third since April and the increase in carload traffic was the best it’s been since the pandemic began,

Grain was the highest it has been in 13 years, while motor vehicles and parts were close to 90 percent of their levels of earlier this year.

“Changes in energy markets continue to pressure carloads of coal, petroleum products, and frac sand and holding back total carloads,” Gray said in a statement. “Excluding those three categories, carloads in October were a few percentage points higher than last year.”

The 10 carload commodity categories that saw carload gains compared with October 2019 were: Grain, up 21,557 carloads or 25.5 percent; iron and steel scrap, up 3,579 carloads or 29.1 percent; and waste and nonferrous scrap, up 1,527 carloads or 11.2 percent.

Posting declines were coal, down 56,343 carloads or 19.1 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel, down 14,275 carloads or 16.0 percent; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 10,199 carloads or 20.0 percent.

Gray attributed the increase in intermodal traffic to an increase in imports and retailers stocking up for the holiday shopping season.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first 10 months of 2020 was 9,480,575 carloads, down 14.5 percent, or 1,608,065 carloads compared with the same period in 2019.

Intermodal units were 11,204,234, down 4.4 percent, or 517,668 containers and trailers, from last year.

Combined freight traffic for the first 44 weeks of 2020 was 20,684,809 carloads and intermodal units, a fall of 9.3 percent compared with last year.

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