By Railfan & Railroad Staff
WASHINGTON — Nine months after the COVID-19 virus arrived in North America and dramatically altered normal life and the economy, freight rail traffic is almost back to its pre-pandemic levels.
According to the Association of American Railroads, U.S. railroads originated 1,101,324 carloads in December 2020, down just 3.7 percent, or 42,666 carloads, from December 2019.
“Before the pandemic even hit, railroads began 2020 on less than ideal footing because of weakness in the manufacturing sector and lower port activity caused by trade disputes,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “For several months earlier this year, railroads suffered near-record traffic declines, but they worked hard to keep the goods we all need moving. By the end of the year, rail traffic was close to pre-pandemic levels, sparked by sharply higher grain and intermodal shipments along with the reopening of auto assembly plants.”
Total rail traffic in 2020 was down 7.2 percent from the previous year. Carload traffic was down 12.9 percent. Intermodal performed stronger and was down just 1.8 percent when compared to the previous year, with more than 13 million containers being moved.
“It’s no surprise that rail volumes were down for the year overall, but railroads are looking to the future,” Gray added. “Their experience in 2020 along with huge ongoing network investments have made the industry more adaptable and better able to adjust to the demands of a wide range of operational and market conditions. Railroads are well prepared to help our economy grow in 2021.”