KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — Grain transportation mostly normalized last week after an extended mid-February cold snap slowed truck traffic and railroad performance. Loaded rail cars were arriving relatively swiftly at destinations.
Still, several railroads told customers to expect delays as backlogs are cleared. The BNSF Railway said it did not anticipate needing to reduce train lengths and expects train speeds and network fluidity to improve. Michigan millers reported lingering slowness expected to break free by the middle of the first week of March.
By Feb. 25, most of the remaining affected areas were in Southern and Gulf states. Weather backlog issues remain for BNSF in Texas and for Union Pacific Railroad in Arkansas, Missouri and south Texas, according to the USDA Grain Transportation Report.
The UP was one of several railroads 7 to 10 days behind schedule in placement of empty rail cars at origins, traders said. By Feb. 25, some shippers had received only partial car orders or had yet to receive any part of sets requested in the first week of February, a veteran wheat trader said.
US rail carloads and intermodal units in the week ended Feb. 20, the latest for which statistics are available, totaled 377,904, down 22% compared with the same week in 2020, bringing the total for 2021 to 3,457,725 units, up 6,5% from the same period in 2020, according to the American Association of Railroads.
Total US carloads for that week were 171,642 carloads, down 26% compared with the same week in 2020. US weekly intermodal volume was 206,262 containers and trailers, down 17% compared with 2020.
For the first time in a month, no carload commodity groups notched a year-over-year increase. However, cumulative grain carloads were among three groups to maintain a cumulative 2021 increase, and the only one to be sharply higher.
Grain carloads for the week totaled 18,860, a 0.5% decrease from the same week in 2020, the AAR said. That brought the 2021 grain carloads total to 177,374, an average of 25,382, a 30% increase over the same period in 2020.
Farm products and food excluding grain (which includes grain mill products), as well as forest products, though both lower year-over-year for the week, still were up fractionally for the year.
Canadian grain carloads in the week ended Feb. 20, including US operations of Canadian Pacific and CN, totaled 6,977, up 0.1% from the same week a year earlier, bringing the 2021 total to 66,697, an average of 9,528, a 37.9% increase from the same period in 2020.
Mexican grain carloads in the week ended Feb. 20, including US operations of GMXT, totaled 1,928, an 11% decline from the same week a year earlier, bringing cumulative 2021 grain carloads to 12,297, an average of 1,757 per week, an 18% decline from the same period in 2020.
North American grain carloads for the week totaled 27,765, a 1% decline from the same week in 2020, bringing the cumulative continental 2021 total to 256,668, an average of 36,667 per week, a 28.2% increase from the same period in 2020.
The average March shuttle secondary railcar bids and offers per car were $223 above tariff in the week ended Feb. 18. This was $111 more than the previous week and $365 above the average in the same week a year earlier. No non-shuttle bids or offers were reported to the USDA for the week.
By Feb. 25 mostly minor delays of barge activity were noted by the USDA. A week earlier, barge operations on the Ohio, Illinois, and lower Mississippi rivers were temporarily halted by ice storms and severe weather. By Feb. 25, only the Illinois River had yet to fully reopen to barge traffic. Traffic continued to improve, although the US Army Corps of Engineers warned of the potential for melting ice to raise water levels and challenge operations.
Total barge grain movements in the week ended Feb. 20 totaled 488,462 tons, down 46% compared with the average of the recent four-week period and the lowest since April 2020, the Corps said. That brought cumulative grain barge tonnage for 2021 to 5,666,000 tons, up 55% from the same period in 2020.
Corn shipments by barge in the week ended Feb. 20 totaled 349,000 tons, up 9% from the same week in 2020, bringing the year-to-date total to 3,338,000, a 104% increase over the same period in 2020.
Wheat shipments by barge in the week ended Feb. 20 totaled 8,000 tons, down 82% from the same week a year earlier, bringing the cumulative 2021 total to 103,000 tons, down 39% from the same period in 2020.
In the same week, 674 grain barges were unloaded in New Orleans, the fewest since the August 2020 hurricane season, the Corps and USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
In the week ended Feb. 18, 34 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the US Gulf, a 26% increase from the same week a year earlier. On Feb. 18, the rate for shipping one tonne of grain from the Gulf to Japan was $54, a 10% increase from the previous week, the USDA said. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $32.25 per tonne, a 19% increase from the prior week.
For the week ended Feb. 22, the US average diesel fuel price was $2.973 per gallon, a 9.7¢ increase from the previous week and 9.1¢ above the same week in 2020.