Pandemic’s impact reflected in intermodal volumes

Falling intermodal volumes — likely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak — contributed to the 7.6 percent decline in U.S. freight railroad traffic during the week ending March 14 compared with the same period a year ago, according to Association of American Railroads (AAR) data.

Railroads logged a combined 463,017 carloads and intermodal units during the week. Total carloads fell 5.9 percent to 226,039 units, while intermodal volume tumbled 9.1 percent to 236,978 containers and trailers.

“Intermodal, rather than other rail sectors, is likely to see the earliest impacts from the coronavirus because large amounts of intermodal traffic go to or come from ports — roughly half of U.S. intermodal is exports or imports,” said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray in a press release.

Extensive flooding and harsh winter weather in 2019 complicates traffic comparisons to this year, he added.

“That said, the fact that overall intermodal originations last week were the lowest for the same week since 2013 is strong evidence that the coronavirus is impacting intermodal volumes,” said Gray.

“This is emphasized by the fact four of the five carriers of intermodal traffic from West Coast ports, the principal gateways serving the Chinese trade, saw declines in their intermodal business handled,” he continued. “Similar declines in the East also suggest that the problem has begun to spread to other regions of the supply chain.”

Six of the 10 carload commodity groups that AAR tracks every week posted increases during the week. They included grain, up 1,288 carloads to 19,911; motor vehicles and parts, up 1,180 carloads to 19,104; and petroleum and petroleum products, up 1,164 carloads to 13,294.

Commodity groups that posted decreases included coal, down 16,545 carloads to 55,542; nonmetallic minerals, down 2,468 carloads to 30,254; and metallic ores and metals, down 992 carloads to 19,975.

Meanwhile, Canadian railroads posted 84,612 carloads for the week, up 6.3 percent, and 60,886 intermodal units, down 12.8 percent. Mexican railroads reported 21,393 carloads for the week, down 5 percent, and 15,074 intermodal units, down 8.9 percent.

For the first 11 weeks of 2020 compared with the same period a year ago:
• U.S. railroads logged 5,261,603 carloads and intermodal units, down 7 percent;
• Canadian railroads logged 1,553,013 carloads, containers and trailers, down 1.6 percent;
• Mexican railroads logged 409,361 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 4.2 percent; and
• North American railroads combined logged 7,223,977 carloads and intermodal units, down 5.3 percent.

Original article

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