Canadian Shipper


North American intermodal traffic down due to COVID-19

Washington, DC — Intermodal traffic in North America took a hit due to the COVID-19 virus, with the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reporting a 10 per cent drop for the week ending March 14.

“Intermodal, rather than other rail sectors, is likely to see the earliest impacts from the coronavirus because large amounts of intermodal traffic go to or come from ports – roughly half of U.S. intermodal is exports or imports,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray.  “Unfortunately, extensive flooding and harsh winter weather last year at this time complicate comparisons between this year and last year.  That said, the fact that overall intermodal originations last week were the lowest for the same week since 2013 is strong evidence that the coronavirus is impacting intermodal volumes. This is emphasized by the fact four of the five carriers of intermodal traffic from west coast ports, the principal gateways serving the Chinese trade, saw declines in their intermodal business handled. Similar declines in the East also suggest that the problem has begun to spread to other regions of the supply chain”

North American rail volume, on 12 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 332,044 carloads, down 3 percent compared with the same week last year, and 312,938 intermodal units, down 9.8 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 644,982 carloads and intermodal units, down 6.4 percent. North American rail volume for the first 11 weeks of 2020 was 7,223,977 carloads and intermodal units, down 5.3 percent compared with 2019.

Canadian railroads reported 84,612 carloads for the week, up 6.3 percent, and 60,886 intermodal units, down 12.8 percent compared with the same week in 2019. For the first 11 weeks of 2020, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 1,553,013 carloads, containers and trailers, down 1.6 percent.

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