Rail carloads see false positive on wonky comp

A late 2019 Thanksgiving distorts carload data

Class I rail carloads are up in the recent week on a year-over-year basis according to the Association of American Railroads, but the prior year comparison includes the Thanksgiving holiday whereas the 2019 period does not.

Total U.S. Class I rail traffic increased 10.6% year-over-year in week 47, which ended Nov. 23. Even with the favorable comparison to 2018, coal (-7.6%) and pulp and paper products (-13.2%) saw declines.

The four-week average may be the best metric to view versus the distorted weekly comparison. Total traffic was 8% lower by that measure, with some of the largest commodities moved via rail seeing continued declines – coal (-15.4%), total intermodal units (-7.9%), intermodal containers (-6.2%), nonmetallic minerals (-5.3%), agricultural and food products (-3%) and chemicals and petroleum (-1.5%).

Total Carloads (USA) – SONAR: RTOTC.USA

Year-to-date, total U.S. Class I rail traffic is down 4.2% year-over-year through week 47. Total North American traffic is 3.3% lower over the same period. The prior four-week average for North American traffic is down 7.2%.

The declines were more pronounced on the Canadian front. Total rail traffic declined 9.2% year-over-year for the week with intermodal traffic (+0.2%) basically flat. The declines were seen across all commodities. The prior four-week average is less dire, down 6.1%, with agricultural and food products (+1.6%) gaining traction after a later than normal grain harvest.

Canadian National (NYSE: CNI) posted a 28% year-over-year carload decline in the recent week, down 7.3% on average for the prior four weeks. The company has been embroiled in a labor dispute with roughly 3,200 of its conductors, trainspersons and yard workers. The strike, which began Nov. 19, appears to be resolved as the Teamsters reached a tentative agreement with CN requiring workers to resume their duties today, Nov. 27.

By comparison, Canadian Pacific’s (NYSE: CP) carloads were up 7.4% in the recent week and only 3.7% lower on average for the prior four weeks when compared to 2018.

Intermodal units for both Canadian rails were basically flat in the recent week. 

Sagging rail volumes and precision scheduled railroading (PSR) initiatives have taken a toll on rail headcount, which reached a new low in October. The total number of U.S. Class I rail employees was 134,582, down 9.5% year-over-year, a new 2019 low. Train and engine crews were reduced by 11.8%.


  1. Last but certainly not least ,

    I hope the Teamsters negotiated for CN “employee stock options” .

    Since the “game” is rigged in corporate favor and corporations use corporate funds to buy ,reduce , and cancel shares on the open market and thus increase value per share in their favor , and the UNION stating that corporate favors shareholder gains(profits) over doing the right thing for employees, the union cannot and must not omit demanding employee stock options . This should not even be up for negotiation . What should be “negotiated” is the “amount of options per employee ,exercise price and expiration date” . (wink)

    Then educate union members on market cycles in regards to their sector & industry .

    Furthermore , shorten collective agreement date/time .

    In my humble opinion …………

    On another note , there appears to be a very resistant grave and strange stubborn management mentality infectious disease caused by a particular “virus” within certain corporations in regards to a lack of safety which appears to have spread to other sectors and industries , even citizens . It appears to have become an epidemic on the planet ! And rather than government offering a cure , they appear to have been infected as well !

    However , as peculiar as the virus’s effect may appear to have in the human brain , it’s better known through its Latin name : “Cupiditas” aka GREED ! This unfortunate disease affects the brain and cuts off the reasoning faculty and brings human beings to act in some very peculiar ways among each other .

    Again going back to 2013

    Quote :

    Teamsters union warns that workers could be off the job before end of October
    CBC News · Posted: Oct 14, 2013

    Rail safety under scrutiny

    “Wages and the retirement plan are not key issues in this round of bargaining, the union said, but management has demanded some concessions around what work can be done by conductor-only crews and how long those crews are required to work that would result in CN employees working longer hours with less rest time between trips.

    Such an approach “flies in the face of scientific research on fatigue management,” the union said in its release, especially in an era when incidents such as the deadly Lac-Mégantic derailment have underlined the importance of rail safety and when railways like CN have vowed to make safety their main priority.”

    Quote :

    “The company is also looking to extend the period of how long crews are sometimes required to work from 10 hours to 12 hours, which it can do, Hackl said, because rail crews are exempt from some provisions of the Labour Code and can be required to work up to 12 hours on any one shift and 18 hours in a 24-hour period. ”

    End quote .

    And AGAIN the same issues arise in October 2019 !!!

    In my humble opinion ………..

  2. Interesting article written in February 2019 titled :

    B.C. home to third most train derailments across Canada

    Quote :
    There have been more than 10,000 in Canada since 2004

    In total, there have been more than 10,000 derailments in Canada since 2004. Canadian National Railway, which operates most trains in Canada, has the most derailments at almost 5,500. Canadian Pacific is second at more than 4,000 derailments. There are on average at least 50 derailments per month across Canada.”


    “90 per cent of the time in a derailment, the engine car with the crew will stay on the tracks. It’s usually the cars that come after the engine that derail. That’s one of the reasons the crew doesn’t usually get seriously injured in derailments. However, there are also no seat belts. ”



    “While derailments occur frequently, they are rarely in the news.
    “The railways don’t like to advertise. If a derailment is in the middle of nowhere, no one will hear about it.”
    Unless it’s in town or someone dies.”

    It’s quite an interesting article .

    On another note , “shift work” statistics are also extremely interesting . Especially concerning safety and the negative health effects it causes .

    Quote from Wikipedia :

    “Mandating a minimum of 10 hours between shifts is an effective strategy to encourage adequate sleep for workers. Allowing frequent breaks and scheduling 8 or 10-hour shifts instead of 12 hour shifts can also minimize fatigue and help to mitigate the negative health effects of shift work”


    “Compared with the day shift, injuries and accidents have been estimated to increase by 15% on evening shifts and 28% on night shifts. Longer shifts are also associated with more injuries and accidents: 10-hour shifts had 13% more and 12-hour shifts had 28% more than 8-hour shifts.[6] Other studies have shown a link between fatigue and workplace injuries and accidents. Workers with sleep deprivation are far more likely to be injured or involved in an accident”

    Now if we were to compare that to :

    Quote :
    “Work and Rest Rules
    Transport Canada limits the on duty time on a single shift for engineers, conductors and yard workers and all workers involved in switching or operating trains to 12 hours, including those working split shifts. The exception is work train crews, who may work 16 hours. The total maximum over multiple shifts is 18 hours.
    To reset the clock, a worker must receive 8 hours off at their home terminal or 6 hours away from home”

    Therefore we can clearly see a health and safety contradiction between Transport Canada’s work & rest rules compared to what is recommended , scheduling 8 or 10-hour shifts instead of 12 hour shifts . In this case it would suggest that CN should have more employees rather than less to fulfill their needs “safely” .

    Anyways , insurance companies should have a field day with Rail companies to say the least .

    Furthermore , perhaps the one’s creating transport regulations should take a step back from their comfortable offices and go experience transport jobs . They’ll likely notice that people in those vocations are being overworked beyond what is considered to be safe and healthy . There’s a huge conflict of interest between labourers and their employers . And this conflict of interest hasn’t improved since the beginning of time on this planet . Just like there’s a huge conflict of interest between government and citizens .

    I must have missed the fine print when enticed to incarnate in this asylum , cough , I mean on the planet earth ……..

    In my humble opinion ………..

  3. Speaking about “Negligence” . If CN deems or accuses another of “negligence” from which harm or damages were caused , how would CN react to such ? Would they expect or takes steps to render the neglector accountable ?

    Let’s see .

    We need to get a grasp of the mentality behind CN . Is it fair ? Is it responsible ? Is it accountable or one that denies ?
    Too many safety issues have occurred year after year with this company . We need to dig a little to see WHY . We need to understand the mentality at the helm of this company in order to understand the “WHY” behind the repetitive reoccurrence of certain safety issues .

    Quote :

    “Grieving mother whose son was killed by a train on badly-signed train crossing is SUED for $500,000 by heartless rail company for ‘damaging carriages and causing delays'”
    End quote.

    According to that story , CN expects that one who THEY deem “negligent” must be rendered accountable and pay for their negligent behavior that has caused harm and damage .

    Though when CN is deemed to have been negligent they deny any wrong doing and blame others .

    Now are we going to accept being brainwashed into believing that business is about money and being ruthless at the cost of decency ? If so then perhaps “business” is flawed and we should rectify the “mentality” behind business and what being in business means .

    To me being in “business” comes with great responsibilities . Responsibility towards customer care , employee care , environmental care , shareholder care , safety care etc .

    However , in an attempt to remain realistic , before “decency” carves its place in business on this planet I believe we will populate another before that occurs .

    Since “business” only understands the language of profit and cost , I’ll respond to “business” by using that language .

    Since “Rail” safety issues keep arising then perhaps Rail insurance companies would be better positioned to address the situation and increase their profits while decreasing their costs .

    Insurance is a cost . It’s also a tool to mitigate risk . However, just as Rail , insurance is a “business” . Perhaps insurance companies who offer their services to Rail corporations should hone in on the risk they are actually undertaking by insuring these Rail corporations .

    Just as a Rail corporation , an insurance corporation needs to look out for its best interest and increase its profit while reducing its cost and risk . Therefore increase the cost of the insurance premium offered to rail since the risk of a potential payout due to their safety negligence and potential “accident” occurrence is high and quite costly until safety issues are reduced to zero .

    Rail corporations should be scrutinized by their insurers . Every inch of every track should be scrutinized . Every railcar scrutinized .Every infrastructure used and under a Rail corporation’s responsibility should be scrutinized .

    Employee safety policies scrutinized . Have Rail corporations set up cameras on their trains , in their yards , and at Rail crossings . An insurer can no longer give the benefit of the doubt to those Rail corporations . They must remain vigilant in order to reduce their costs and increase their profits and mitigate the risk of a potential insurance claim and or diminish the possibility of “fighting” a claim .

    Insurance companies are in the business to make money , not pay out claims . A low premium = An insurer betting that you won’t file a claim . A high premium = An insurer betting that there’s a higher probability that you will likely file a claim . Easy enough to comprehend ?

    Employees tend to have “Life Insurance” policies etc. As an insurer you want an employee to live as long as possible and pay premiums for as long as possible . In order to reduce the likely hood of paying out a life insurance claim prematurely , an insurer must ensure that employees work in a safe environment . If not , then the premium increases . Quite often life insurance is offered in an employee benefit package by the employer . Therefore an employee unsafe environment should greatly increase the life insurance premium costs of the employer .

    Therefore insurance companies are well positioned to have a financial influence on Rail safety and a Rail corporation’s bottom line . Use the price of insurance premiums as an incentive to influence Rail corporations to do the right thing and decrease safety risks .

    If I owned or was on the board of directors at an insurance company that insured rail corporations and I had a son or daughter working as a train conductor , engineer , and or yard worker etc, I would want my insurance company to be profitable and ensure my child’s safety on the job as well as the public’s since I mostly likely would be insuring some of them as well .

    Insurance companies are not in the business to pay out claims , they are in the business to collect PREMIUMS ! And as long as those premium profits outweigh insurance claim payouts , insurance “businesses” are happy and in the money .

    So insurance companies should also be thankful for the enlightening experience they have recently been offered through a CN strike . A lack of safety = potential injuries , death , and derailments which end up costing insurance companies and negatively affecting “their” bottom line .

    In my humble opinion ……………….

  4. Furthermore , I find it to be quite intriguing that Mr. Ruest is placed between the Montreal Courthouse which represents “LAW” , and the Aldred Building also known as “L’Édifice De La Prévoyance”(Prudence) during the BNN Bloomberg broadcast . Subliminal message ? lol

    This brings a question to my mind concerning “Prudence & Law”

    Since CN Rail is considered to be an “Essential Service” should it not be required to adhere to a Standard of Care ?
    If corporate governance , especially in a duopoly , is negligent and brings harm on an economy , it’s people , and its clients , should it not have to answer to such ?

    Quote :

    Business judgement rule
    If there is a question as to whether a director has met his or her fiduciary duties, the Canadian courts look to the ‘business judgment rule’. Essentially, the rule is that a court will defer to the decisions of a director so long as that director brought an appropriate degree of prudence and diligence in reaching a reasonable business decision. The court looks to see that the directors made a reasonable decision, not a perfect decision. And, provided the decision taken is within a range of reasonableness, the court is unlikely to substitute its opinion for that of the board even though subsequent events may cast doubt on the board’s determination. In other words, hindsight is 20/20, and it won’t be used to second-guess reasonable business decisions made on the information available at the time.”

    RE-QUOTE :

    “The court looks to see that the directors made a reasonable decision, not a perfect decision.”

    End quote.

    Would it be deemed “reasonable” to force an employee or plural to work unsafely and putting them and the public in potential danger ? Would it be deemed “reasonable” to penalize such an employee or plural for refusing to work unsafely ? Would it be deemed “reasonable” to force employees in to a labour strike due to abusive management putting labourer safety in jeopardy ?

    Would it be deemed “reasonable” that due to abusing employee safety and engendering a labour strike in the process due to labourer retaliation against management stubbornness objecting to cease such abuse , and thus negatively impacting a Country’s economy and client financial welfare in the process ? Would this be deemed to be reasonable, diligent, and prudent behavior ?

    Or would we reasonably deem the proper answer to these questions to be “no it was highly unreasonable” and it was it imprudent governance ? In actuality we may interpret it as down right careless and negligent .

    And based on this sort of carelessness and neglect , not only have employees mentally and physically suffered , some have also lost their lives and died .In some case also citizens . These are the harsh realities that have brought on employees to retaliate and demand a change due to employer carelessness and neglect to do what is reasonably right . And when employee reasonable safety demands kept on being ignored employees decided to stop working under such unsafe and abusive circumstances . Once they stopped working to protect themselves and the public 90% of their employer’s services in their department ceased .

    This worker cessation caused an unreasonable preventable burden on dependant CN clients financial welfare ,on a Country’s economy ,as well as on striking employee wages . Then 8 days later , management publically states that they will make things right through a BNN Bloomberg broadcast .

    At 9 minutes 4 seconds in the broadcast the CEO admits and is aware that CN is a major infrastructure company in Canada and that the Canadian economy “depends” on CN Rail .

    Then at 11 minutes and 15 seconds in the broadcast the CEO states that he and his team ,through the word utilization of “we” , admits to being acutely aware of what was being reported before the strike began and while the strike was taking place . In other words he and his team “knew” all along about what was going on and what repercussions it would have if a strike was announced and the repercussions once the strike took place on their clients and the Country’s economy due to being aware of the impact and the roll they(CN) “play” in the economy .

    THEY(CN management) WERE AWARE !

    I rest my case ……….

    Listen to what the CEO is saying at 13 minutes 54 seconds !

    ” We have to find ways to mitigate the situation where there is a work stoppage for any reason ” , end quote.

    And that’s where “Prudence”(L’Édifice De La Prévoyance) & “Law”(The Montreal Courthouse) come into the “picture” , literally !

    The “Law” should ensure the public that its economy and its welfare will not be held hostage in the case whereas an essential service duopoly dispute should arise among their labourers and themselves by establishing legislation that will hold corporate governance to a higher standard of care which will render them responsible for any negligence on their part that could cause harm .

    In other words , if corporations are AWARE, and even if not , of their actions potentially causing harm then they should be held accountable to act prudently and mitigate such risk . Ie; they can establish a contingency plan to prevent disruption of an essential service even though a labour strike may occur .

    No law should force anyone to accept abuse nor to work in abusive circumstances and continue to put profit in the pockets of abusers during negotiations in an attempt to stop such abuse , essential service or not . I mean even having to express such a reasonable point is ludicrous .

    at 4 minutes 33 seconds , the CEO says they will being doing what’s right .

    We’ll see . However, the law should render “doing what is right” mandatory .

    In my humble opinion ………..

    FACTS :
    CN Rail, union reach tentative deal that averts weekend strike

    Quoted FACTS :

    On May 14, 2003, a trestle collapsed under the weight of a freight train near McBride, B.C., killing both crew members. Both men had been disciplined earlier for refusing to take another train on the same bridge, claiming it was unsafe. It was revealed that as far back as 1999, several bridge components had been reported as rotten, yet no repairs had been ordered by management.[19] Eventually, the disciplinary records of both crewmen were amended posthumously.

    First day in court for CN

    More safety questions about fatal train crash
    Last Updated: May 31 2004 08:12 AM PDT

    PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. – CBC News has learned that the support structure for the wooden bridge that collapsed in northern B.C. last year, killing two workers, may have been in a weakened state at the time of the accident.
    Two CN Rail employees were killed after their freight train plunged into a gully as it rolled over a CN bridge near McBride – east of Prince George.
    Earlier this month, charges were laid against CN, alleging the company endangered its workers by failing to keep the bridge safe.

    CBC News · Posted: Dec 07, 2005 6:44 PM PT | Last Updated: December 7, 2005

    CN has been fined $75,000 in connection with a bridge collapse and derailment in northern B.C. in 2003 that killed two employees.
    The company pleaded guilty in Prince George court Wednesday to one charge of failing to ensure accordance with sound engineering principles on the trestle bridge for several years before the train wreck.

    CN admitted to inadequate record-keeping, and that bridge parts identified as rejects may not have been fixed.

    The other two charges – of failing to protect employee health and safety – were stayed.

    Crown prosecutor John Cliffe said the two charges of failing to protect employee health and safety were dropped because experts disagreed on what caused the derailment and because much of the evidence went up in flames.

    Outside the courthouse, Jane McKay, the widow of engineer Art McKay, said it’s a sad day for railroaders, calling the $75,000 fine a joke.”

    WOW ! A little $75k slap on the wrist ???

    FACTS :
    About 8:36 p.m., Central Daylight Time, on Friday, June 19, 2009, eastbound CN freight train U70691-18, traveling at 36 miles per hour (58 km/h), derailed at a highway/rail grade crossing in Cherry Valley, Illinois (near Rockford).

    The train consisted of 2 locomotives and 114 cars, 19 of which derailed. All of the derailed cars were tank cars carrying denatured fuel ethanol, a flammable liquid. Thirteen of the derailed tank cars were breached or lost product and caught fire. At the time of the derailment, several motor vehicles were stopped on either side of the grade crossing waiting for the train to pass.

    As a result of the fire that erupted after the derailment, a passenger in one of the stopped cars was fatally injured, two passengers in the same car received serious injuries, and five occupants of other cars waiting at the highway/rail crossing were injured. Two responding firefighters also sustained minor injuries. The release of ethanol and the resulting fire prompted a mandatory evacuation of about 600 residences within a 0.5-mile (0.80 km) radius of the accident site. Monetary damages were estimated to total $7.9 million.

    The probable cause of the accident was the washout of the track structure that was discovered about 1 hour before the train’s arrival, and CN’s failure to notify the train crew of the known washout in time to stop the train because of the inadequacy of CN’s emergency communication procedures. Contributing to the accident was the CN’s failure to work with Winnebago County to develop a comprehensive storm water management plan to address the previous washouts in 2006 and 2007.

    Contributing to the severity of the accident was the CN’s failure to issue the flash flood warning to the train crew and the inadequate design of the DOT-111 tank cars, which made the cars subject to damage and catastrophic loss of hazardous materials in the derailment.

    FACTS :

    In the years following CN’s 1998 acquisition of Illinois Central, the company has come under scrutiny for illicit practices that allegedly cause the delay of Amtrak schedules. In 2012, Amtrak filed a formal complaint against CN with the Surface Transportation Board, stating that the prioritization of freight traffic over passenger traffic was commonplace on Amtrak routes operating on CN lines.

    The complaint cited over 4,000 delays during fiscal year 2011 on the route between Chicago and Carbondale, totaling over 26 days of net wasted schedule time; it also reported 99% of delays between Chicago and New Orleans on the City of New Orleans route were caused by CN dispatching issues.[28]

    In 2018, Amtrak began issuing public report cards, grading the impact of freight railroads on passenger train performance. CN received the lowest-possible grade of “F” on the first card issued in March 2018

    and last but not least , a CP FACT :

    CP trains were idled for nine days in May when 4,800 locomotive engineers, conductors and traffic controllers walked off the job. The disruption cost the national economy an estimated $80 million. The strike was ended when the federal government legislated a back-to-work bill, forcing both sides to come to a binding agreement.

    Pensions, health spending accounts and fatigue management are the key issues in negotiations.

    DEJA VUE !!!!!

  5. BNN Bloomberg

    “EXCLUSIVE: CN Rail’s Ruest says recovery from strike may take weeks”

    Mr.Ruest doesn’t appear to be “comfortable” , lol . He has to face the music of his and his team’s mismanagement now ! What an embarrassment !

    Of course he won’t say what actually got management to bend . PUBLIC EMBARRASSEMENT due to public release of point in fact that CN is irresponsible and endangers the public as well as its employees is most likely the reason !!!

    And this confirms why government must create rail regulations . RAIL management can be IS ABUSIVE , they mismanage PSR at the cost of public and employee safety and welfare !

    Mr.Ruest may be useful to CN at another level/other position , he shouldn’t be CEO ! IN MY OPINION !

    He says he would like to thank “CN CLIENT SUPPORT during the strike” ??? IS HE DREAMING ? CN agriculture clients were manifesting and pressuring government to put pressure on CN to serve clients RESPONSIBLY , and were not pressuring government to force employee back to work legislation !

    Is Rail an “essential” service ? Absolutely , however, essential laws should be ratified when it concerns , ie;, monopolies, and or duopoly etc privatized corporations in order to prevent potential corporate trickery that could abuse of the legal system in their financial favor .

    Essential corporations must have a contingency plan that would not effect essential service if management encounters/creates a labour strike . Otherwise the corporation(s) should face severe financial penalties and corporate management should potentially face incarceration based on their mismanaging behaviors which create economic hardship on a Country and its people .

    I guarantee that with such legislation , corporate governance would certainly IMPROVE and wouldn’t attempt to use and or manipulate economic hardship due to their monopolistic position in an attempt too have laws created in their financial favor . We must remain vigilant and prevent such potential corporate deception .

    On another note :

    Quote ,
    Teamsters Canada releases video of ‘exhausted’ conducter ahead of tentative deal with CN Rail

    CN Supervisor keeps harassing CN conductor to move the train for over 7 minutes . CN supervisor tells CN conductor ‘personal rest is “not a regulatory nor a safety” issue and knowing that are you refusing to bring the train to’ etc.

    Wow the CN supervisor keeps on pestering and attempting to manipulate the CN EXHAUSTED conductor to move the train under threat of it being a “refusal” if he does not comply and that resting is not a safety or regulated issue ! UNBELIEVABLE ! And that supervisor is simply following orders that come from a higher CN level ! There’s no excuse for the supervisor’s ill management nor for those ordering him to manage in such a way !

    Just like with the trucking industry , the rail industry is extremely irresponsibly managed while putting the public and employees in danger !

    I remain convinced that there should be a change in CN governance at the BOD level including the CEO .

    Out with the old and in with the new which should include ratified essential corporate legislation !

    In my humble opinion …………

Todd Maiden

Based in Richmond, VA, Todd is the finance editor at FreightWaves. Prior to joining FreightWaves, he covered the TLs, LTLs, railroads and brokers for RBC Capital Markets and BB&T Capital Markets. Todd began his career in banking and finance before moving over to transportation equity research where he provided stock recommendations for publicly traded transportation companies.