From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators. Graphs and excerpts reprinted with permission.
Intermodal is navigating many of the same challenges that have plagued global supply chains for months, such as shutdowns at ports and manufacturing centers in Asia; port congestion; labor and capacity shortages at docks, warehouses, and drayage firms; container and chassis shortages; natural and man-made disasters (e.g., wildfires, hurricanes, and ships getting stuck in canals). Pressures are intensifying as retailers, many of whom already have much lower inventories than they’d like, are trying to stock up for the upcoming holiday season. At this point, no one knows if things will get worse before they get better, and if they do get worse, how much worse they will get.
This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows the six week average of U.S. Carloads in 2019, 2020 and 2021:
Total originated carloads on U.S. railroads in August 2021 were 934,762, up 4.1% (36,815 carloads) over August 2020 and down 11.4% (120,262 carloads) from August 2019. The 4.1% year-over-year gain in August 2021 was the smallest year-over-year gain since March 2021. Total carloads averaged 233,691 per week in August 2021. Except for August 2020, that’s the lowest weekly average for total carloads for an August in our records that begin in 1988.
The second graph shows the six week average (not monthly) of U.S. intermodal in 2019, 2020 and 2021: (using intermodal or shipping containers):
U.S. intermodal originations, which are not included in carloads, were 3.3% lower in August 2021 than August 2020 and 0.4% lower than August 2019. That’s their first year-over-year decline in 13 months. Intermodal originations averaged 271,336 containers and trailers per week in August 2021, the third lowest of the eight months so far in 2021. In the 21 years from 2000 to 2020, August was a top-three intermodal month 16 times. That’s obviously won’t happen this year.