Intermodal Traffic Fell 6.7% in September

Figures released by the Association of American Railroads on Wednesday confirmed what has been apparent for several weeks.

Intermodal traffic on U.S. Class 1 railroads is struggling, falling by 6.7 percent in September compared with the same month in 2020.

“Rail intermodal volume is clearly not what it has been and could be,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray.

“Keeping intermodal terminals functioning smoothly and at full capacity depends on consistent freight outflows to make room for new freight inflows,” Gray said.

“Unfortunately, due to limited availability of downstream truck and warehouse capacity, that’s not happening right now with predictable impacts on rail intermodal volume. There is no single solution to this problem, but railroads are bringing intermodal yard capacity back online to increase storage availability as well as working with customers and truckers to accelerate container pickup, among other efforts.

Otherwise, rail freight traffic at Class 1 railroads is trending upward with the carriers reporting having handled 1,167,682 carloads in September 2021, an increase of 4.3 percent (or 47,858 carloads) compared with September 2020.

Railroads hauled 1,328,527 containers and trailers, a decline of 95,317 units compared with last year.

Total carload and intermodal originations for September was 2,496,209, down 1.9 percent (or 47,459 carloads and intermodal units) compared with the same month last year.

AAR said 15 of the 20 carload commodity categories it tracks posted gains compared with September 2020.

These included: coal, up 40,954 carloads or 13.7 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 11,107 carloads or 12.5 percent; and primary metal products, up 8,675 carloads or 22.4 percent.

Losing ground last month were motor vehicles and parts, down 22,486 carloads or 27.6 percent; grain, down 17,312 carloads or 14.7 percent; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 1,616 carloads or 3.1 percent.

Excluding coal, carloads increased by 6,904, or 0.8 percent, in September 2021 compared with. September 2020.  Excluding coal and grain, carloads were up 24,216, or 3.5 percent.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first nine months of 2021 was 9,009,639, an increase of 7.9 percent, or 658,222 carloads;, and 10,812,108 intermodal units, a 9.9 percent rise, or 976,362 containers and trailers.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 39 weeks of the year was 19,821,747 carloads and intermodal units, up 9 percent from the same period in 2020.

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