Winter Hindered U.S. Rail Freight Traffic in February

A harsh period of winter weather that brought a polar vortex also put U.S. rail freight traffic into a deep freeze during February.

“During February, snow and ice covered wide swaths of the country, including many areas that rarely see harsh winter weather wreaking havoc on all forms of transportation, including rail,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray in a statement.

Gray said total U.S. rail carloads during the third week of February were the lowest for any week in AAR’s records that go back to 1988.

“While carloads rebounded during February’s final week to a more typical level, the month ended with noticeably lower total volumes,” Gray said. “On the positive side, both intermodal and grain traffic remained relatively strong through three of the four weeks of the month.”

For the month, U.S. railroads originated 824,636 carloads in February 2021, down 11.1 percent, or 102,972 carloads compared with February 2020.

They originated 1,015,995 containers and trailers, a gain of 1.8 percent, or 18,184 units.

Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations were 1,840,631, a drop of 4.4 percent or 84,788 carloads and intermodal units compared with February 2020.

Three of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month posted gains.

This included grain, up 12,342 carloads or 15.7 percent; pulp and paper products, up 578 carloads or 2.8 percent; and metallic ores, up 221 carloads or 1.4 percent.

Commodities that declined during February included: coal, down 31,837 carloads or 12.5 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel, down 24,320 carloads or 33 percent; and motor vehicles & parts, down 14,336 carloads or 20.4 percent.

Excluding coal, carloads were fell 71,135 carloads, or 10.6 percent. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 83,477 carloads, or 14 percent.

Total carload traffic for the first two months of 2021 has been 1,754,939 carloads, down 6.5 percent, or 122,771 carloads, and 2,189,215 intermodal units, up 7.1 percent, or 144,732 containers and trailers.

Total combined traffic for the first eight weeks of 2021 is 3,944,154 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 0.6 percent compared with last year.

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