Class 1 Systems Saw Traffic Gains in 1st Quarter

Impressive gains in intermodal traffic helped North America’s Class 1 railroads systems post volume gains during the first quarter of 2021.

Industry observers say a surge in retailers seeking to restock shelves has boosted interemodal volume.

That was welcome news for railroads because the first quarter saw them see suffer slight declines in carload volume.

Among the seven Class 1 systems, Canadian National came out on top with an 8.2 percent increase in overall volume compared with the same period in 2020.

However a mitigating factor in CN’s case is that it looks good compared with last year because this year it didn’t have to deal with illegal blockades of its tracks that lasted for weeks.

Norfolk Southern posted a 5 percent volume gain fueled largely by 8 percent intermodal growth and a nearly 5 percent rise in coal traffic.

At CSX traffic was up nearly 3 percent, led by a 12.3 percent boost in intermodal business.

CSX and NS alike enjoyed increased traffic from East Coast ports as well as parcel traffic related to e-commerce.

Traffic gains for other Class 1 railroads included BNSF, 7.3 percent and Union Pacific, 1 percent. Canadian Pacific’s first quarter traffic traffic was flat compared with last year’s first quarter, when it had a 10 percent gain partly due to picking up some traffic that could not move on CN during the blockades.

 “When much of the economy shut down around this time last year, rail volumes plummeted too. We have to take that into account when comparing rail traffic this year to last year,” said Association of American Railroads Senior Vice President John T. Gray.

“That said, rail traffic has clearly rebounded from last year’s depths. Looking ahead, rail volumes are highly correlated with manufacturing output, so recent signs of strength in manufacturing are good signs for railroads too.”

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