AAR: November Rail Carloads down 5.8% YoY, Intermodal Up 11.5% YoY

From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators. Graphs and excerpts reprinted with permission.

Total U.S. carloads in November 2020 were down 5.8% from November 2019, their smallest year over-year percentage decline since August 2019. (The peak recent decline was 27.7% in May 2020.) In November, 9 of the 20 carload categories the AAR tracks had year-over-year carload gains. Grain and chemicals led the way. In November, U.S. grain carloads were the most since October 2007, while carloads of chemicals were the second most for any November on record. Meanwhile, November 2020 was the sixth-best month ever (in terms of weekly average originations) for U.S. intermodal. It might have been the best month ever if Thanksgiving week hadn’t pulled down November’s weekly average.
emphasis added

Rail Traffic Click on graph for larger image.

This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows the six week average of U.S. Carloads in 2018, 2019 and 2020:

Total U.S. carloads (not including intermodal) were 900,194 in November 2020, down 5.8% from November 2019. That’s the smallest year-over-year percentage decline for total carloads since August 2019. The peak decline was 27.7% in May 2020. That said, total carloads averaged 225,049 per week in November 2020, the smallest weekly average for November in our records which begin in 1988.

Rail TrafficThe second graph shows the six week average of U.S. intermodal in 2018, 2019 and 2020: (using intermodal or shipping containers):

U.S. railroads originated an average of 284,174 intermodal containers and trailers per week in November 2020 — the most ever for November and the sixth best month overall. Thanksgiving week (246,504 units) pulled down November’s average — the second week of November (295,316 units) and the third week of November (301,129 units) were the fifth-best and thirdbest weeks, respectively, in history for U.S. intermodal.

U.S. intermodal volume in November 2020 was up 11.5% over November 2019. That’s intermodal’s fourth straight year-over-year monthly gain and the biggest year-over-year percentage gain since February 2016.

Note that rail traffic was weak prior to the pandemic, and intermodal has come back strong.