Canadian rail freight volume unchanged in December, down 5.4 percent in 2020

Wednesday, 24 February 2021 22:03:11 (GMT+3)   |   San Diego
       

According to Statistics Canada, Canadian railways carried 32.4 million tons of freight in December, an amount unchanged (0.0 percent) from December 2019, and the second highest on record for the month of December. Following a strong 6.0 percent year-over-year growth in November, this signals a recovery to more seasonal levels after seven straight months of year-over-year declines since March.

Traffic from domestic freight operations increased in December. Intermodal or container traffic in Canada was up 6.3 percent to 3.1 million tons compared with December 2019, marking the fourth consecutive month of year-over-year increases.

In December, non-intermodal freight loadings also grew 0.7 percent to 26.3 million tons. The main contributors to this year-over-year increase were loadings of agricultural and food products, principally wheat (+21.4 percent, or +420 000 tons), followed by potash (+21.9 percent, or +371 000 tons), iron ores and concentrates (+8.3 percent, or +365 000 tons), oil seeds and nuts and other agricultural products (+82.4 percent, or +262 000 tons) as well as other cereal grains (+21.0 percent, or +128 000 tons).

Moderating this growth were large year-over-year declines in loadings of certain hydrocarbon-based commodities, notably fuel oils and crude petroleum (-40.5 percent, or -917 000 tons), coal (-11.5 percent or -372 000 tons), gasoline and aviation turbine fuel (-42.9 percent, or-114 000 tons). Compared with December 2019, other significant decreases were also reported in other metallic ores and concentrates (-27.6 percent, or -111 000 tons) along with iron and steel (-21.3 percent, or -93 000 tons).

In December, traffic received from the United States remained well below December of 2019 levels, falling 10.7 percent to 3.0 million tons, the ninth consecutive month of decline.

For the full-year 2020, the volume of rail freight amounted to 365.5 million tons, a decrease of 5.4 percent from 2019. While this marked the first such decline in four years, freight volume remained close to the five-year annual average. While non-intermodal freight loadings in Canada fell 3.9 percent to 295.6 million tons, intermodal freight traffic was down 10.7 percent to 33.2 million tons, the lowest annual level in four years. Finally, freight traffic coming from the United States saw a year-over-year decline for the first time in four years, dipping 11.7 percent to 36.7 million tons.

Overall, the tonnage of rail freight moved in 2020 ended near pre-pandemic levels. Helping to transport essential goods throughout the pandemic, the rail freight industry was not directly affected by COVID-19 restrictions, as was passenger transport for example. That said, COVID-19 brought significant changes during 2020 to the types of commodities moved by rail—the most evident a shift from energy-related commodities to agricultural and food products.

With weaker energy demand coming from travel restrictions and shuttered economies, energy-based commodities experienced large declines relative to 2019. With loadings of 14.3 million tons, fuel oil and crude petroleum were down 32.7 percent in 2020, following large year-over-year growth in 2018 (+45.1 percent) and 2019 (+13.2 percent). Similarly, coal loadings fell for the first time in five years in 2020, down 9.7 percent from 2019 to 33.5 million tons while gasoline and aviation turbine fuel loadings dropped 49.4 percent to 1.8 million tons in 2020. Other declines were reported for other metallic ores and concentrates (-44.5 percent) and for iron ores and concentrates (-2.7 percent).


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