• ITVI.USA
    15,460.570
    36.950
    0.2%
  • OTRI.USA
    25.740
    0.430
    1.7%
  • OTVI.USA
    15,441.350
    37.540
    0.2%
  • TLT.USA
    2.670
    -0.020
    -0.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.910
    0.010
    0.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    2.990
    -0.170
    -5.4%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.530
    0.090
    6.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    2.790
    -0.030
    -1.1%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.140
    -0.020
    -0.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    3.270
    -0.130
    -3.8%
  • WAIT.USA
    127.000
    0.000
    0%
  • ITVI.USA
    15,460.570
    36.950
    0.2%
  • OTRI.USA
    25.740
    0.430
    1.7%
  • OTVI.USA
    15,441.350
    37.540
    0.2%
  • TLT.USA
    2.670
    -0.020
    -0.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.910
    0.010
    0.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    2.990
    -0.170
    -5.4%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.530
    0.090
    6.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    2.790
    -0.030
    -1.1%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.140
    -0.020
    -0.9%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    3.270
    -0.130
    -3.8%
  • WAIT.USA
    127.000
    0.000
    0%
NewsRail

Winter weather wallops US rail traffic

Rail traffic fell nearly 22% last week

U.S. rail volumes took a hit last week from the extreme winter weather experienced in the southern and central regions of the country. 

Overall U.S. rail traffic for the week ending Saturday slipped 21.7% to 377,904 carloads and intermodal units, according to the Association of American Railroads. Of that, carload traffic tumbled 26.3% to 171,642 carloads, while intermodal volumes fell 17.4% to 206,262 containers and trailers.

All carload categories fell year-over-year last week. The steepest decline went to nonmetallic minerals carloads, which dropped 46.1% to 16,088 carloads. Grain carloads fell the least, decreasing only 0.5% to 18.860 carloads. 

Nonmetallic minerals carloads have been facing sluggish demand since the start of 2021, with year-to-date volumes down 19.5% year-over-year to 164,672 carloads. In contrast, grain carloads are 30% higher year-to-date to 177,674 carloads amid strong export demand. 

U.S. rail carloads (blue: RTOTC.USA), intermodal trailers (orange: RTOIT.CLASSI) and containers (green: RTOIC.CLASSI) over the past year. (FreightWaves SONAR)

“This has been no ordinary winter storm (it’s the worst on record dating back 18 years of data keeping), both in terms of geographic breadth and impact across modes. In fact, it has been a historic week since it will shape Texas power policy going forward,” said FreightWaves analyst Tony Mulvey in a Feb. 18 FreightWaves Passport research note. “Also extraordinary is the coverage of the adverse weather conditions blanketing ~75% of the population with snow.”

Indeed, domestic intermodal volumes in particular took a hit because Chicago and Dallas have far more intermodal outbound domestic loads than outbound international loads, Mulvey said in a Wednesday FreightWaves Passport research note

To illustrate the market tightness, domestic door-to-door intermodal spot rates were higher in the past week in 19 of the 20 densest lanes, mostly on top of rate increases the prior week, Mulvey said. In many of the densest lanes, intermodal spot rates are up 60% in the past two weeks. Those rates, combined with still-challenged service levels, may push more domestic freight to the highway, he said.

A comparison of intermodal rates year-to-date for select lanes. On the left are intermodal rates from Chicago to Dallas (blue: INTRM.CHIDAL), Chicago to Portland (green: INTRM.CHIPDX) and Chicago to Seattle (orange: INTRM.CHISEA). On the right are intermodal rates from Dallas to Los Angeles (blue: INTRM.DALLAX), Dallas to Seattle (orange: INTRM.DALSEA) and Dallas to Chicago (INTRM.DALCHI). (FreightWaves SONAR)

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.