A bit of very good news.

Following is a monthly update on United States (rail freight traffic by sector (with Canadian totals), with a focus on carloads. The data in the table is from the September issue of Railway Age, and we have added a column that shows typical car types for ease of reference. Each month, when this data is published, the report is for the second-previous month. Here is the current information reported, which covers in this case the five weeks ending August 1st:

Major US Railroads
Commodity Typical Car Type (s) July 2020 July 2019 % Change
Grain Covered Hopper 104,121 115,658 -9.98%
Farm Products ex. Grain Covered Hopper, Gondola 3,842 3,547 8.32%
Grain Mill Products Covered Hopper 46,267 46,416 -0.32%
Food Products Boxcar, Tankcar, other 28,249 27,774 1.71%
Chemicals Boxcar, Tankcar, other 150,293 158,770 -5.34%
Petroleum & Petroleum Products Tankcar 51,276 62,770 -18.31%
Coal Gondola 274,043 384,268 -28.68%
Primary Forest Products Flatcar, Gondola 4,893 5,677 -13.81%
Lumber & Wood Products Flatcar 16,062 15,804 1.63%
Pulp & Paper Products Boxcar 24,366 26,706 -8.76%
Metallic Ores Open top Hopper, Gondola 12,519 34,461 -63.67%
Coke Open top Hopper 14,347 19,479 -26.35%
Primary Metal Products Gondola, Flatcar, Boxcars 32,872 44,518 -26.16%
Iron & Steel Scrap Gondola 15,623 15,986 -2.27%
Motor Vehicles & Parts Autorack, Boxcar, Flatcar 69,973 70,242 -0.38%
Crushed Stone, Sand & Gravel Open top Hopper, Gondola 89,755 119,302 -24.77%
Nonmetallic Minerals Open top Hopper, Gondola 18,934 21,378 -11.43%
Stone, Clay & Glass Products Covered Hopper, Open top Hopper, etc. 39,770 42,137 -5.62%
Waste & Nonferrous Scrap Gondola 17,470 17,617 -0.83%
All other carloads n/a 27,342 31,844 -14.14%
Total US Carloads 1,042,017 1,264,354 -17.59%
Canadian Carloads 354,276 407,991 -13.17%
Combined US & Canadian Carloads 1,396,293 1,672,345 -16.51%

This pattern is very comparable to what we have seen in recent reports. However, The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has also just reported US rail traffic for the period ending September 5. In that report, they indicate that total carloads for the week were down only 6.9% compared to the same week last year. So, while July was pretty bad for the railroads and industries they serve, it seems clearly things are improving. This is good news for sure.

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