This past week Railway Age published an article that contained a summary of the past year’s various assessments of rail traffic, and, most interesting, contained a presentation of the Association of American Railroad’s data for the week ending Jan. 2nd, which included a comparison to the same week in 2019 and “year-to-date” summary that showed basically all of 2020 compared to 2019.

Sadly, year-over-year data illustrated:

  • Every single industry group had declines except just one; Grain, which itself benefited from increased export activity;
  • Deep cuts took place in rail traffic associated with energy; both coal and petroleum/petroleum products;
  • Motor vehicles and parts had the second largest drop in rail traffic; just over 19%; and,
  • Even intermodal shipments, which have been helping to lead the recovery this year with stunning growth still suffered a year-over-year decline of almost 2%.

Clearly, the pandemic has impacted the economy in ways that will take time to heal and fully recover from. At this time we see continued weakness in several railcar types, including covered hoppers, gondola railcars, and tank cars. In particular, lease rates for covered hoppers are breathtakingly low.

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