Canadian railway freight volume up 7.7 percent in January, due mostly to iron ore and coal

Monday, 22 March 2021 19:55:54 (GMT+3)   |   San Diego

According to Statistics Canada, in January, the volume of cargo carried by Canadian railways reached 32.6 million tons, up 7.7 percent from January 2020. This marked the third straight month of year-over-year growth.

The overall tonnage was higher than normal for this time of year, well above the five-year average for the month of January and surpassing the prior record of 32.4 million tons set in January 2019.

The rail traffic growth in January reflected a higher volume of both domestic non-intermodal and intermodal loadings.

Domestic non-intermodal freight traffic grew 8.6 percent year over year to 26.2 million tons in January, mainly as a result of a sharp increase in loadings of two key inputs required for steelmaking—coal and iron ores. Together, these two commodities accounted for over two-thirds (67.2 percent) of the total increase in non-intermodal loadings.

Loadings of coal, which have been on a downward trend since April 2020, surged by 35.5 percent (+814,000 tons) in January from the same month in 2020, more than offsetting the year-over-year decline of 11.5 percent (or -372,000 tons) in December 2020. Similarly, loadings of iron ores and concentrates were 13.0 percent higher (+576,000 tons) in January compared with the same month in 2020.

Increased loadings of these two commodities coincided with a rebound in global steel production. According to the World Steel Association, member countries reported a 4.8 percent year-over-year increase in crude steel production in January. Exports of iron ore and concentrates posted a healthy increase in January, according to data on Canadian international merchandise trade.

Growth in non-intermodal freight traffic was moderated by the continued decline in loadings of some hydrocarbon-based commodities. In particular, loadings of fuel oils and crude petroleum declined year over year for the tenth consecutive month, down 45.1 percent (-1,089,000 tons) in January, following similar year-over-year declines in November (-35.2 percent) and December 2020 (-40.5 percent).

Travel restrictions and limited air travel continued to temper demand for energy products. For example, gasoline and aviation turbine fuel loadings, which have fallen year over year each month since April 2020, dropped another 40.2 percent (-101,000 tons) in January, while other refined petroleum and coal products were down 14.6 percent (-62,000 tons).

Finally, in January, domestic intermodal loadings—mainly containers—remained well above the volume posted the same month a year earlier for the fifth consecutive month, rising 20.0 percent from January 2020 to 3.1 million tons—the highest monthly volume for a month of January on record.

Traffic received from the United States saw a year-over-year decline for the tenth straight month, dipping 7.3 percent to 3.3 million tons in January, after a 10.4 percent year-over-year decline the previous month.

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