U.S. railroads originated 951,840 carloads in April 2021, up 23.7 percent, or 182,060 carloads, from April 2020. U.S. railroads also originated 1,173,952 containers and trailers in April 2021, up 33.8 percent, or 296,758 units, from the same month last year. Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in April 2021 were 2,125,792, up 29.1 percent, or 478,818 carloads and intermodal units from April 2020.
In April 2021, 17 of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with April 2020. These included: coal, up 55,929 carloads or 28.7 percent; motor vehicles & parts, up 38,891 carloads or 465.9 percent; and chemicals, up 17,201 carloads or 14.8 percent. Commodities that saw declines in April 2021 from April 2020 included: crushed stone, sand & gravel, down 823 carloads or 1 percent; primary forest products, down 124 carloads or 2.9 percent; and farm products excl. grain, down 74 carloads or 1.9 percent.
“A number of U.S. rail traffic categories have completely recovered ground lost during the pandemic or are very close to doing so,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “For example, April set a new all-time record for intermodal, driven by surging international trade and strong consumer spending. Meanwhile, carloads of grain, food, lumber, paper, scrap metal and several other categories were higher in April 2021 than they were in both April 2020 and in April 2019. Carloads of chemicals and steel in April 2021 were much higher than last year and just shy of April 2019 levels.”
Excluding coal, carloads were up 126,131 carloads, or 21.9 percent, in April 2021 from April 2020. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were up 109,124 carloads, or 22.4 percent.
Total U.S. carload traffic for the first four months of 2021 was 3,862,937 carloads, up 2.8 percent, or 104,793 carloads, from the same period last year; and 4,793,498 intermodal units, up 17.6 percent, or 718,271 containers and trailers, from last year.
Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 17 weeks of 2021 was 8,656,435 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 10.5 percent compared to last year.
Week Ending May 1, 2021
Total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 540,667 carloads and intermodal units, up 29.6 percent compared with the same week last year.
Total carloads for the week ending May 1 were 240,858 carloads, up 27.2 percent compared with the same week in 2020, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 299,809 containers and trailers, up 31.6 percent compared to 2020.
All of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2020. They included coal, up 17,094 carloads, to 62,970; motor vehicles and parts, up 9,364 carloads, to 11,344; and metallic ores and metals, up 7,929 carloads, to 24,462.
North American rail volume for the week ending May 1, 2021, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 341,400 carloads, up 26.4 percent compared with the same week last year, and 385,743 intermodal units, up 25.2 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 727,143 carloads and intermodal units, up 25.8 percent. North American rail volume for the first 17 weeks of 2021 was 11,842,622 carloads and intermodal units, up 9.3 percent compared with 2020.
Canadian railroads reported 79,618 carloads for the week, up 16.4 percent, and 70,192 intermodal units, up 1.1 percent compared with the same week in 2020. For the first 17 weeks of 2021, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 2,574,502 carloads, containers and trailers, up 7.2 percent.
Mexican railroads reported 20,924 carloads for the week, up 69.6 percent compared with the same week last year, and 15,742 intermodal units, up 43.4 percent. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 17 weeks of 2021 was 611,685 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 2.8 percent from the same point last year.