The Association of American Railroads provides data on a regular basis regarding carloads and intermodal loading. Typically, the data is either for a “weekending” or “month ending” period, always compared to the same period for the prior year. For this week’s update we will use AAR’s data to provide a slightly different side-by-side data presentation; comparing the week ending February 6, 2021, to the week ending June 5, 2021. Hopefully, this will provide a little insight into what is going on this year, looking at the four-month overall change, as compared to the most recent week to last year’s pandemic data. Here is our table, using AAR’s data for those two periods:

Week Ended
Feb 6 `21 June 5 `21 % Change
Total Carloads 226,393 227,497 0.49%
Chemicals 33,581 32,602 -2.92%
Coal 60,071 65,101 8.37%
Farm products excl Grain & Food 16,801 15,395 -8.37%
Forest Products 9,954 9,776 -1.79%
Grain 25,951 21,352 -17.72%
Metallic Ores and Metals 19,390 23,332 20.33%
Motor Vehicles and Parts 15,050 11,133 -26.03%
Nonmetallic Minerals 24,821 29,220 17.72%
Petroleum & Petroleum Products 11,453 10,085 -11.94%
Other 9,321 9,501 1.93%
Total Intermodal Units 269,422 261,647 -2.89%
Total Traffic 495,815 489,144 -1.35%

First, we were struck by the relative flatness of the data overall, given the four-month period. However, there are big swings in several material categories;

  • There is a steady increase in coal shipments; we did not expect to see that;
  • The decline in motor vehicles and parts is significant, and likely due to the chip shortage if not partly, perhaps mostly;
  • The decline in intermodal shipments, while small, is interesting given how strong intermodal has been for many months; and,
  • It is good to see strength in metallic ores and metals and nonmetallic minerals, hopefully showing increased overall industrial activity during the period.

So there it is; a slightly different look at AAR’s weekly data, showing how things changed over the past four months. There certainly is evidence of seasonal changes in the data but there is more going on that may be interesting to watch going forward.

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