KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — Grain millers, merchandisers, brokers and traders continued to express disappointment with rail service in the western United States last week. The main issue was turnaround time for rail car placements back at origins.
One shipper said a Class 1 railroad was 45 days behind in car placements. A merchandiser for a major miller estimated placement at two to three weeks behind schedule. Ideas were that the railroad’s locomotive power, equipment and personnel primarily were engaged in running shuttle trains to ports to handle exports of grain and oilseeds.
In the week ended April 24, US weekly rail traffic totaled 538,184 carloads and intermodal units, up 30% compared with the same week in 2020, according to the American Association of Railroads in its weekly rail traffic report.
Carloads for that week totaled 240,075, up 25% compared with the same week in 2020. US weekly intermodal volume was 298,109 containers and trailers, up 34% compared to the same week a year earlier.
For the first time in 2021, all 10 US carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2020. Grain carloads in the week totaled 25,467, up 18% from the week a year earlier, bringing grain carloads in 2021 to 405,187 for an average of 25,324 per week, up 24% from the same period in 2020, the AAR said.
Canadian railroads reported 77,900 carloads for the week ended April 24, up 9%, and 71,311 intermodal units, up 2% compared with the same week in 2020. Canadian grain carloads in the week totaled 10,308, up 3% from the week a year earlier, bringing 2021 Canadian grain carloads to 165,962 for an average of 10,373 per week, up 31.2% from the same period in 2020, the AAR said.
Mexican railroads reported 21,100 carloads for the week ended April 24, up 53% compared with the same week last year, and 17,035 intermodal units, up 40%. Mexican grain carloads in the week totaled 2,072, up 2% from the same week in 2020, bringing the cumulative total for the year to 29,823 for an average of 1,864 per week, down 14% from the same period in 2020, the AAR said.
North American rail volume for the week ended April 24 on 12 reporting US, Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 339,075 carloads, up 22% compared with the same week in 2020, and 386,455 intermodal units, up 27% year-over-year. North American grain carloads in the week totaled 37,847, up 13% from the same week in 2020, bringing the 2021 total to 600,972 for an average of 37,561 grain carloads per week, up 23% compared with the same period in 2020, the AAR said.
Since mid-April, water levels of the rivers of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay have forced barges to lower their capacities to avoid grounding. That has slowed the flow of corn, soybeans, soybean meal, and soybean oil to key export locations, the US Department of Agriculture said in its weekly Grain Transportation Report. Lower water levels were attributed to drought.
Sections of the Paraná River through Paraguay closed at the beginning of April and remain closed to barge navigation. That area is a major artery for soybean transportation. Free-on-board corn export prices in Argentina and Brazil for spot, 30 days forward, and 60 days forward are being quoted at record highs, Bloomberg reported.
Whereas Brazil largely relies on rail and truck for agricultural transportation, Argentina and landlocked Paraguay depend primarily on barge traffic. Supply disruptions from these key South American sources could shift global buyers to pull from US stocks instead, the USDA said.
Barge grain movements in the week ended April 24 totaled 957,500 tons, up 20% from the previous week and up 45% from the same period last year, the US Army Corps of Engineers said.
In the same week, 597 grain barges moved down river, 92 barges more than the previous week. There were 729 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 16% more than in the previous week, according to the Corps and USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
Thirty-two oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf in the week ended April 22, down 9% from the same period in 2020, according to the AMS. In the next 10 days from April 23, 41 vessels were expected to be loaded, down 5% from the same period in 2020.
The rate for shipping one tonne of grain from the US Gulf to Japan was $62.50 on April 22, 8% higher than the previous week. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $36.50 per tonne, up 7% from the previous week, the USDA said.
The Energy Information Administration reported the following average on-highway diesel fuel prices per gallon on May 3 by region:
- East Coast, $3.113
- New England, $3.084
- Central Atlantic, $3.285
- Lower Atlantic, $3.004
- Midwest, $3.085
- Gulf Coast, $2.924
- Rocky Mountain, $3.250
- West Coast, $3.664
- West Coast less California, $3.282
- California, $3.983