Sharp decline in metal ore and coal shipments drag down Canadian rail freight volumes in August

Wednesday, 28 October 2020 20:04:24 (GMT+3)   |   San Diego

According to Statistics Canada, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to dampen the volume of cargo carried by rail. In August, Canadian railways carried 29.0 million tons of freight, down 14.7 percent from August 2019. This was the fifth consecutive monthly decline and the biggest year-over-year drop since March.

The total year-to-date carloadings (from January to August) reveal that the freight tonnage moved by rail in 2020 was the lowest eight-month cumulative total since 2016.

The tonnage of non-intermodal freight posted a sharp year-over-year decline, falling 14.1 percent to 23.0 million tons in August.

Loadings of fuel oils and crude petroleum have declined year over year for five straight months, slumping 67.5 percent (-1,297,000 tons) in August. This drop followed similar year-over-year declines in June (-69.4 percent) and July (-67.1 percent).

Similarly, coal loadings dipped 26.2 percent (-902,000 tons) year over year in August, a fourth consecutive month of decline. Due to a decrease in electricity consumption by industries in many countries on account of the pandemic, energy demand is down.

The overall decline in railway carloadings mirrors the August decrease in Canadian exports of energy products, as reported in the Canadian international merchandise trade release earlier this month.

Loadings of certain mineral products also posted large year-over-year decreases in tonnage. Iron ore and concentrate loadings were down 9.2 percent (-488,000 tons), the largest drop since April. Moreover, loadings of other metallic ores and concentrates fell sharply (-56.7 percent or -407,000 tons) from a year ago, following a similar decline (-55.0 percent) in July.

Intermodal freight loadings totaled just over 3.0 million tons in August, down 5.8 percent from August 2019. This year-over-year decline—the smallest since April—coincided with a 12.8 percent drop in Eastern Canada. It is difficult to tell whether the source of this decline was the almost two-week work stoppage at the Port of Montréal, which has extensive connections to rail networks in Eastern Canada, or the economic conditions triggered by the pandemic.

Finally, freight traffic from the United States fell 25.6 percent to 2.9 million tons in August.

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