Canadian rail freight volume almost recovers to pre-COVID levels in September

Wednesday, 25 November 2020 20:22:40 (GMT+3)   |   San Diego

According to Statistics Canada, in September, the total volume of freight carried by rail nearly reached its pre-COVID-19 level for the first time since March. Canadian railways carried 31.0 million tons of freight during the month, down 1.2 percent compared with 31.3 million tons in September 2019. However, this small year-over-year decrease came after five consecutive months of double-digit declines, bringing the monthly tonnage close to its five-year average for September.

Looking at year-to-date volumes, rail freight for the first nine months of 2020 totaled 267.7 million tons. This total was 7.8 percent below the same January-September period of 2019 and was the lowest nine-month cumulative total in four years.

September's small decrease in total freight carried consisted of a modest increase in cargo loaded in Canada along with a sharp decline in traffic from international operations. Freight traffic received from American railways decreased 19.1 percent from September 2019 to 3.0 million tons, the sixth consecutive month of year-over-year decline. Conversely, intermodal freight loadings in Canada were up 6.8 percent to 3.2 million tons, the highest level since October 2019.

In September, non-intermodal freight loadings edged up 0.5 percent year over year to 24.8 million tons, led by agricultural and food products. In particular, there was strong demand for Canadian-grown grains and oilseeds through the pandemic, along with optimal harvest weather conditions across most of the Prairies.

Loadings of iron ores and concentrates grew 23.0 percent (or +869,000 tons) over the same period, following a year-over-year decline of 9.2 percent (or -488,000 tons) the previous month. Many of these movements in railway carloadings during September were in line with data on Canadian international merchandise trade, released earlier in November.

Offsetting these increases were large declines in loadings of hydrocarbon-based commodities. Fuel oils and crude petroleum led the drop, with loadings slumping 60.1 percent (or -1,102,000 tons) from September 2019, the fifth consecutive month of a year-over-year decline of 60 percent or greater.

In addition, loadings of coal fell 12.4 percent (-395,000 tons), the fifth consecutive year over year decline. While this was less than the drop recorded in August (-26.2 percent), it reflected ongoing weakness in demand for industrial energy in many countries.

Similarly, other metallic ores and concentrates loadings dropped 57.0 percent (or -390,000 tons) compared with the same month in 2019, following similar year-over-year declines in July (-55.0 percent) and August (-56.7 percent). Loadings of iron and steel–primary or semi-finished were 27.0 percent (or -103,000 tons) below September 2019 levels.

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