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United States rail carload and intermodal volumes saw steep declines for the week ending April 4, according to data issued this week by the Association of American Railroads (AAR).
Rail carloads—at 210,911—were down 16.2%, trailing the weeks ending March 28 and March 21, at 219,844 and 224,048, respectively.
AAR said that two of the 10 carload commodity groups tracked by the AAR saw annual gains, including miscellaneous carloads, up 1,369 carloads, to 10,336 and forest products, up 127 carloads, to 9,916. Commodity groups saw annual declines included coal, down 17,587 carloads, to 57,504; motor vehicles and parts, down 14,389 carloads, to 3,171; and nonmetallic minerals, down 4,526 carloads, to 31,527.
Intermodal containers and trailers—at 218,184—were down 15.7% annually, trailing the weeks ending March 28 and March 21, at 229,923 and 235,918, respectively.
Through the first 14 weeks of 2020, U.S. rail carloads—at 3,203,962 carloads—were down 7.1% annually, and intermodal units—at 3,396,469— were off 9.1%.
“The impact of the novel coronavirus on railroads is growing,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray in a statement. “Since 1988, when our data begin, total U.S. rail carloads were lower than they were last week only during a few Christmas and New Year’s weeks, when rail operations are seasonally low. Part of the problem now is sustained weakness in coal carloads, but even excluding coal, carloads last week were down 13.1%. We haven’t seen sustained declines of that magnitude since the Great Recession. The worst performing commodity category last week was autos and auto parts, with North American carloads down 84% from what they were just three weeks ago. It wasn’t just autos, though: last week, 13 of the 20 U.S. carload categories we track, representing 87% of total carloads, saw year-over-year declines, including big declines in steel scrap, steel products, nonferrous scrap, crushed stone and sand, and petroleum products. Based on rail data, it’s clear that many sectors of U.S. industry are beginning to feel the impact of coronavirus disruptions.”
Addressing intermodal, Gray explained that with China in the very early stages of its own recovery, whether intermodal volumes will continue to fall - and if they do continue to fall, how far - will now depend to a large extent on what happens with consumer spending in North America.
“That, in turn, will depend on how long social distancing steps must remain in place; how well and how quickly federal and state unemployment insurance and other programs fill gaps in household cash flows; and how much the current situation causes consumers to lose long-term confidence and remain in retrench mode not just when health concerns begin to recede but, more importantly, when they have been largely resolved,” he said.
This article first appeared on www.logisticsmgmt.com
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