Intermodal lifted U.S. rail volumes in September

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Intermodal volume helped boost combined U.S. rail traffic to a 1% decrease in September compared with the same month last year, according to Association of American Railroads (AAR) data.

U.S. railroads hauled 1,119,546 carloads last month, down 9.7% compared with September 2019 levels. However, the railroads also originated 1,423,883 containers and trailers during September, a 7.1% increase from the same period a year ago.

Combined, U.S. railroads logged 2,543,429 carloads and intermodal units during the month.

“September 2020 was the fourth best intermodal month in history for U.S. railroads, as retailers and others restocked their inventories and prepared for the holiday season,” said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray in a press release. “Meanwhile, rail carloads, which don’t include intermodal, remained down in September compared with last year, but showed marked improvement compared to a few months ago, especially if you exclude coal.”

Last month, eight of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month posted gains. They included grain, up 27.8%; iron and steel scrap, up 12.2%; and grain mill products, up 4.7%.

Commodities that logged decreases included coal, down 24.2%; crushed stone, sand and gravel, down 20.9%; and chemicals, down 5.6%.

Excluding coal, carloads were down 2.9%. 

Total U.S. carloads hauled during the first nine months of 2020 tumbled 15.3% to 8,567,803 units, while intermodal volume fell 5.9% to 10,034,360 containers and trailers.

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