KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — US railroads originated fewer carloads in January 2021 than in the same month a year earlier, according to the American Association of Railroads. However, 10 of 20 carload commodity categories saw carload gains in that time, including grain.
Originated carloads on US railroads in January totaled 930,303, down 19,799 carloads, or 2%, from January 2020. But grain carloads in January were up 31,434 carloads, or 40%, year-over-year.
In the week ended Jan. 30, grain carloads totaled 27,482, up 43% from the same week a year earlier, bringing cumulative grain carloads to 110,040, up 40% from the same period in 2020. The average of weekly grain car loadings was 27,510 carloads.
Despite the overall year-over-year decline, John T. Gray, senior vice president of AAR, sounded a note of optimism.
“We are encouraged by rail volumes in January,” he said. “US intermodal shipments and carloads of chemicals set new records; grain had its biggest-ever year-over-year increase; total carloads were the highest they’ve been in a year; and carloads excluding coal actually grew year-over-year for the second straight month. To be sure, the economy remains under strain with a good deal of uncertainty, but we’re cautiously optimistic about the future. Railroads are well prepared to support a strong recovery whenever it occurs.”
On Canadian rails, grain, coal and chemicals were the only rail categories showing improvement, the AAR said. Grain carloads on Canadian railroads (including US operations of Canadian Pacific and CN railroads) in the week ended Jan. 30 totaled 10,741, up 39% from the same week in 2020, bringing cumulative grain carloads in 2021 to 42,433, up 47% from the same period in 2020. Canadian grain carloads in 2021 have averaged 10,608 per week.
On Mexican rails, grain carloads were among 5 of 10 categories notching a decline in the latest week, according to the AAR. Grain carloads on Mexican railroads (including US operations of GMXT) in the week ended Jan. 30 totaled 1,888, down 9% from the same week in 2020, bringing year-to-date grain car loadings to 8,326, steady from the same period in 2020. The average weekly grain car loadings in Mexico for 2021 were 2,082.
Barge grain movements in the week ended Jan. 30 totaled 1,027,650 tons, according to the US Army Corps of Engineers. The weekly total was down 7% from the previous week, but up 119% from the same week in 2020.
Grain barges moving down river in the week ended Jan. 30 totaled 618, down 63 barges, or 9% from the previous week, according to the Corps of Engineers and the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. Grain barges unloaded at New Orleans totaled 894, down 8% from the previous week.
Ocean-going grain vessels loaded at the US Gulf in the week ended Jan. 28 totaled 37, a 28% increase over the same week last year, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service said.
The rate for shipping one tonne of grain from the US Gulf to Japan was $46.50 on Jan. 28, up 1% from the previous week. Shipping one tonne of grain from the Pacific Northwest to Japan cost $26.75, up 1% from the previous week.
The average US diesel fuel price on Feb. 1 was $2.738 per gallon, up 2.2¢ from the previous week, but down 21.8¢ from the same week in 2020, according to the US Department of Energy.