Written by

Marybeth Luczak, Editor-in-Chief

(Photograph courtesy of NS)

“October is generally one of the busiest months of the year for carloads, and it’s the best month so far this year,” said the senior vice president of the Association of American Railroads. (AAR), John T. Gray, November 2. intermodal volumes “remained subdued,” he said, “largely due to high inventory at many retailers, lower port volumes and still-scarce warehousing capacity for many rail intermodal customers “.

U.S. railroads produced 952,074 railcars in October 2022, according to the AAR’s November 2 traffic report, which covers October 2022 and the week ending October 29, 2022. That’s a 0.5% increase. , or 5,121 cars, over the prior year period. US railroads also produced 1,062,422 containers and trailers in October, down 1.4%, or 15,095 units, from the same month last year. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal departures reached 2,014,496, down 0.5%, or 9,974 carloads and intermodal units, from a year ago.

In October 2022, seven of the 20 railcar commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw railcar gains from October 2021. These included coal, up 14,937 railcars or 5.8%; crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 8,615 carloads or 10.7%; and motor vehicles and parts, up 5,998 carloads or 11.4%. Commodities that saw declines included chemicals, down 6,195 cars or 4.8%; primary metal products, down 4,645 cars or 13.2%; and all other carloads, down 4,209 cars or 16.8%.

“Grain loadings increased as U.S. producers sought alternatives to the constraints of the Mississippi River while motor vehicles had one of their best months since pre-pandemic times,” Gray reported. “Chemicals shipments declined in part due to high natural gas feedstock prices.”

Excluding coal, carloads decreased by 9,816, or 1.4%, in October 2022 compared to October 2021. Excluding coal and grain, carloads decreased by 8,950, or 1.5%.

Rail traffic results were similar in July 2022 and August 2022, with carloads up and intermodal volume down compared to prior year periods. But in September 2022, loadings and intermodal volume were down compared to September 2021.

How does October 2022 compare to October 2021, October 2020 and October 2019? Let’s go back:

• “The lack of trucks, drivers and storage space [at terminals] are significant constraints that caused intermodal volumes to plummet in October [2021]noted John T. Gray in the November 3, 2021 AAR Rail Traffic Report, which found that container and trailer volume fell 7.9% from October 2020. Gray said pointed out that “railway customers have not been able to clear their freight as quickly as they and the railways would like” at intermodal terminals, where railways are feeling the chain’s challenges “most acutely”. supply. US Class I railroads moved 1,077,515 containers and trailers in October 2021, down 7.9%, or 92,400 units, from the same month in 2020; and 947,013 cars in October 2021, up 3.8%, or 34,510 cars. Total carload and intermodal unit departures in the United States for the month were 2,024,528, down 2.8%, or 57,890 carloads and intermodal units, from October 2020.

• October 2020 was “the best month ever” for U.S. rail intermodal, with volumes up a third from April 2020 — “an astonishing increase in six months,” said John T. Gray on Nov. 4, 2020. Intermodal again offsetting the decline in carloads, as U.S. rail traffic for the month (2,082,646 carloads and intermodal units) increased 2.0%, compared to the same month the last year. Also positive: Loadings increased for 10 of 20 AAR track categories, “the most since the pandemic began,” Gray noted. In October, grain loadings “were at their highest level in 13 years, while motor vehicle and parts loadings rebounded after plunging nearly 90% earlier this year. [2020]“, continued Gray. carloads in October [2020] were a few percentage points higher than last year [2019].” US railroads produced 912,772 railcars in October 2020, down 6.6%, or 64,634 railcars, from October 2019. They also produced 1,169,874 containers and trailers in October 2020, up 10.0%, or 105,966 units, compared to the same month in 2019.

• In the November 6, 2019 AAR Traffic Report, John T. Gray succinctly noted what was driving rail freight down: business investment, exports and manufacturing. Unfortunately, these are precisely what powers much of the freight carried by America’s railroads, and their weakness is a big reason why rail traffic is currently down. The railways hope that policymakers at home and abroad will take sensible steps to accelerate growth and eliminate the uncertainty that limits many economic sectors. What Gray carefully characterized as “trade developments” were actually tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on countries like Mexico, China and Canada, many industry watchers noted. Indeed, the AAR itself strongly emphasized that “42% of carloads and intermodal units and 35% of annual rail revenues are directly associated with international trade. About 50,000 railway jobs, worth more than $5.5 billion in annual wages and benefits, are directly dependent on international trade. One industry observer noted that “these tariffs, it logically follows, invite retaliation. And that hurts the railways. U.S. railroads produced 1,224,477 railcars in October 2019, down 8.4%, or 112,703 railcars, from October 2018. U.S. carload and intermodal carload departures in October 2019 were 2,556,421, down 8.1%, or 224,613 carloads and intermodal units compared to October 2018.

Year to date 2022

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first 10 months of 2022 was 9,971,376 cars, up 0.1%, or 14,912 cars, from the same point last year; and 11,321,976 intermodal units, down 4.8%, or 567,366 containers and trailers, compared to 2021.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 43 weeks of 2022 was 21,293,352 carloads and intermodal units, down 2.5% from last year.

Week 43 (ending October 29, 2022)

Total weekly rail traffic in the United States for the week ending October 29, 2022 was 514,457 railcars and intermodal units, up 0.8% from the same week last year. This includes 244,425 railcars, up 2.6% from last year, and 270,032 containers and trailers, down 0.7%.

Five of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase from the same week in 2021. They included coal, up 4,036 cars, to 70,984; non-metallic minerals, up 3,631 cars, to 34,438; and motor vehicles and parts, up 2,365 cars, to 15,002. Commodity groups that posted declines included chemicals, down 2,147 cars, to 31,092; metallic ores and metals, down 1,916 cars, to 22,108; and forest products, down 805 cars, to 8,908.

North American rail volume for the week ending October 29, 2022, across 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads, totaled 347,651 cars, up 2.2% from the same week last year. last, and 355,130 intermodal units, down 0.9% compared to last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 702,781 carloads and intermodal units, up 0.6%. North American rail volume for the first 43 weeks of this year was 29,189,693 carloads and intermodal units, down 2% from 2021.

Canadian railways reported 80,084 carloads for the week ending October 29, 2022, up 0.4%, and 67,951 intermodal units, down 2.3% from the 2021 period. For the first 43 weeks of 2022, they reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 6,270,727 railcars, containers and trailers, down 1.8%.

For the week ending October 29, 2022, Mexican Railways reported 23,142 railcars, an increase of 4.7% over the same week last year, and 17,147 intermodal units, a gain of 1, 8%. Their cumulative volume for the first 43 weeks of this year was 1,625,614 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 3.9% from 2021.