KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — Heavy rain and wind from Hurricane Nicholas added an extra challenge to barge, truck, and rail industries working to assess damage to their facilities in the wake of Hurricane Ida and restore service at the center Gulf.
The Coast Guard last week opened the Lower Mississippi to barge and vessel traffic, the US Department of Agriculture said in a Sept. 9 Grain Transportation Report. Some restrictions were left in place as barge operators focused on surveying and clearing river obstructions.
While most of the elevators adjacent to the Mississippi River in the New Orleans area remained closed, all container and breakbulk terminals were re-opened at the Port of New Orleans, as was one grain elevator in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, US, the USDA said. Ongoing power outages and logistical challenges were behind the continued closure of some locations two weeks after Ida made landfall.
The trucking industry was dealing with tight capacity across the United States, but especially near the center-Gulf region. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development told the USDA flooding had significantly damaged electrical systems that control movable bridges in the area.
While Class I railroads had restored most main line service by Sept. 9, grain industry leaders said performance was slow in the area and costs were rising.
Prices in the secondary market for shuttle trains reversed course in the second week of September after being available at big discounts for some time, a grain trader said. The shift was in large part due to logistical challenges at the center-Gulf region following Hurricane Ida’s landfall Aug. 29 and amid heavy rain and wind accompanying Hurricane Nicholas as it made landfall Sept. 14 in Texas. The highest bid for return-trip BNSF railroad shuttles was $350 under tariff, while offers were $550 over tariff, he said.
“It’s kind of crazy, but it tells us coarse grain harvest is coming and there are issues getting supplies unloaded at the center Gulf,” he said.
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service posted the average September shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers per car at $64 above tariff for the week ended Sept. 2, $79 higher than the previous week and $493 lower than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.
US weekly rail traffic in the week ended Sept. 11 totaled 468,610 carloads and intermodal units, down 1% compared with the same week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) said in its weekly report Sept. 14. That total comprised 223,710 carloads, up 5% over 2020, and 244,900 containers and trailers, down 6% compared to 2020. Cumulative US volume for the first 36 weeks of 2021 jumped to 18,288,563 carloads and intermodal units, up 10% compared to last year.
Compared with the same week in 2020, 6 of 10 US carload commodity groups posted an increase, including chemicals, coal, forest products, metallic ores and metals, nonmetallic minerals and other. Four sectors that saw lower traffic in the week versus 2020 were grain, food and farm products excluding grain, motor vehicles and parts, and petroleum and petroleum products. Grain carloads in the week totaled 16,718, down 22% from the same week a year earlier, bringing cumulative US grain carloads in 2021 to 825,526 for a weekly average of 22,931, up 9.4% compared with the same period last year.
Canadian railroads reported 73,214 carloads for the week, down 6%, and 62,820 intermodal units, down 11% compared with the same week in 2020. Cumulative 2021 Canadian rail traffic jumped to 327,242 carloads, containers and trailers, up 6% from the same period in 2020. Canadian grain carloads in the week totaled 7,254, down 18% from the same week in 2020, bringing cumulative grain carloads in 2021 to 319,667 for a weekly average of 8,880, up 2% over the same period in 2020.
Mexican railroads reported 19,250 carloads for the week, up 14% from the same week in 2020, and 14,032 intermodal units, down 11%. Cumulative volume in 2021 reached 1,324,930 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 6% from the same point last year. Mexican grain carloads in the week totaled 1,988, up 14% from the same week a year earlier, bringing cumulative Mexican grain carloads in 2021 to 76,840 for a weekly average of 2,134, down 9% from the same period in 2020.
North American rail volume in the week on 12 reporting US, Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 316,174 carloads, up 2% compared with the same week last year, and 321,752 intermodal units, down 7% compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 637,926 carloads and intermodal units, down 3%. North American rail volume for the first 36 weeks of 2021 was 24,940,735 carloads and intermodal units, up 9% compared with 2020. North American grain carloads in the week totaled 25,960, down 19% from the same week in 2020. Cumulative North American grain carloads for the first 36 weeks of 2021 totaled 1,222,033 for an average of 33,945 per week, up 6% from the same period last year.
Barged grain movements in the week ended Sept. 4 totaled 309,030 tons, up 7% from the previous week but down 59% compared with the same period last year, the US Army Corps of Engineers said. In that week, 197 grain barges moved down river, 12 more than in the previous week.
Ocean freight activity
In the week ended Sept. 2, five oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf, down 86% from the same week in 2020, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service said. In the 10 days starting Sept. 3, 15 vessels were expected to be loaded, a 78% decline compared with the week in 2020. The AMS said lower vessel counts are due in part to incomplete data because of Hurricane Ida.
The rate for shipping one tonne of grain from the US Gulf to Japan on Sept. 2 was $82.25, unchanged from the previous week, the AMS said. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $44.75 per tonne, up 1% from the previous week.
For the week ended Sept. 6, the US average diesel fuel price increased by 3.4¢ from the previous week to $3.373 per gallon, 93.8¢ above the same week last year. At $4.02 per gallon, West Coast diesel prices were the second highest level since the week of Sept. 15, 2014.
The average on-highway diesel fuel price per gallon by region in the week ended Sept. 13:
Region Sept. 13 Change Change
week ago year ago
East Coast 3.337 0.005 0.838
New England 3.288 0.003 0.683
Central Atlantic 3.486 0.003 0.810
Lower Atlantic 3.246 0.006 0.889
Midwest 3.282 -0.002 0.974
Gulf Coast 3.099 -0.005 0.927
Rocky Mountain 3.636 -0.009 1.268
West Coast 4.016 -0.004 1.061
West Coast less California 3.661 -0.003 1.086
California 4.313 -0.003 1.046