Huge swaths of the U.S. and global economies remained shut in May and the impact on rail traffic was predictable. Total U.S. carloads fell 27.7% in May 2020 from May 2019, the biggest year-over- year decline for any month on record (our year-over-year comparisons begin in 1989) and worse than the 25.2% decline in April. For intermodal, things were bad but not as bad: originations were down 13.0% in May, better than the 17.2% decline in April.
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This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows the six week average of U.S. Carloads in 2018, 2019 and 2020:
Average weekly total carloads in May 2020 of 185,043 were also the lowest on record. Of the 20 commodity categories we track, just one (farm products excluding grain) had carload gains over last May.
In 2020 through May, total U.S. carloads were down 14.7%, or 815,413 carloads, from last year.
The second graph shows the six week average of U.S. intermodal in 2018, 2019 and 2020: (using intermodal or shipping containers):
U.S. intermodal originations were down 13.0% in May 2020, an improvement from the 17.2% decline in April 2020 but still the 16th straight year-over-year monthly decline for intermodal. Prior to the pandemic, the average monthly decline was around 6%, which is clearly much less than the declines of the past two months. Intermodal is suffering from, among other things, weak consumer demand and fewer cargo ships calling on U.S. ports.
Note that rail traffic was weak prior to the pandemic.