Rail Week Ending Saturday, April 3 - March Rail Movements Up 14.2% Year-over-Year

U.S. railroads originated 1,156,158 carloads in March 2021, up 4.1 percent, or 45,504 carloads, from March 2020. U.S. railroads also originated 1,430,331 containers and trailers in March 2021, up 24 percent, or 276,781 units, from the same month last year. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in March 2021 were 2,586,489, up 14.2 percent, or 322,285 carloads and intermodal units from March 2020.

For some rail traffic categories, percentage changes for the current month compared with the same month in 2020 are inflated because of the widespread shutdowns — and subsequent large reduction in rail volumes — that impacted many economic sectors last year at this time.

In March 2021, 11 of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with March 2020. These included: grain, up 23,144 carloads or 22.1 percent; coal, up 22,010 carloads or 7.6 percent; and motor vehicles & parts, up 10,043 carloads or 16.3 percent. Commodities that saw declines in March 2021 from March 2020 included: chemicals, down 7,857 carloads or 4.8 percent; petroleum & petroleum products, down 5,073 carloads or 8.5 percent; and crushed stone, sand & gravel, down 3,903 carloads or 4 percent.

"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 AAR 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."

Excluding coal, carloads were up 23,494 carloads, or 2.9 percent, in March 2021 from March 2020. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were up 350 carloads, or 0 percent.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first three months of 2021 was 2,911,097 carloads, down 2.6 percent, or 77,267 carloads, from the same period last year; and 3,619,546 intermodal units, up 13.2 percent, or 421,513 containers and trailers, from last year.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 13 weeks of 2021 was 6,530,643 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 5.6 percent compared to last year.

Week Ending April 3, 2021

Total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 515,562 carloads and intermodal units, up 20 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending April 3 were 229,814 carloads, up 8.8 percent compared with the same week in 2020, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 285,748 containers and trailers, up 31 percent compared to 2020.

Six of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2020. They included motor vehicles and parts, up 9,407 carloads, to 12,597; grain, up 4,877 carloads, to 25,679; and chemicals, up 2,626 carloads, to 32,901. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2020 included nonmetallic minerals, down 770 carloads, to 30,760; miscellaneous carloads, down 323 carloads, to 10,023; and forest products, down 135 carloads, to 9,791.

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