Buoyed by intermodal, railroads see traffic rise in December

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Chart showing weekly rail traffic statistics
Association of American Railroads

WASHINGTON — Thanks to continued intermodal strength, overall U.S. Class I rail traffic in December increased by 4.4% over December 2019, with a total of 2,435,819 carloads and intermodal units, according to statistics released by the Association of American Railroads. The 1,101,324 carloads in the month represented a decrease of 3.7%, while the 1,334,495 containers and trailers represented an intermodal increase of 12.2%. For the year, in which railroads saw volume plummet early in the COVID-19 pandemic, but subsequently recover in dramatic fashion, overall traffic decreased by 7.2%.

Railroad-by-railroad results saw Canadian Pacific with the smallest decrease in volume during the year, while Norfolk Southern suffered the largest [see “Canadian Pacific leads industry volume for second straight year,” Trains News Wire, Jan. 4, 2020].

“For several months earlier this year, railroads suffered near-record traffic declines, but they worked hard to keep the goods we all need moving,” AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray said in a press release. “By the end of the year, rail traffic was close to pre-pandemic levels, sparked by sharply higher grain and intermodal shipments along with the reopening of auto assembly plants.”

The AAR’s weekly statistics show a 1.9% increase in overall traffic for the week ending Jan. 2, with carloads down 6.1% and intermodal traffic up 10.7%. North American totals — for 12 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads — included 289,037 carloads, down 4.7%; 287,041 intermodal units, up 8.1% percent; and 576,078 total carloads and intermodal units, up 1.3%.

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