KANSAS CITY — Grain industry professionals last week said movement on US railroads was mostly on track except for the lingering issue of late car placements at origins. Those complaints had been steady for most of the year and were more common in western US regions than in the east.

Some Class 1 railroad customers desperate to ship contracted grain via rail cars ordered earlier were writing to railroad leadership seeking a reprieve from late-arriving equipment that in some cases stretched to 45 days behind.

Most of the industry was keeping an eye on a potential US-Canada-Mexico rail line. Initially, Canadian Pacific Railway announced it had agreed to purchase the Kansas City Southern railroad in a transaction valued at $29 billion. On April 20, Canadian National Railway Co. presented, in their words, “a superior proposal” to acquire KCS in a transaction valued at $33.7 billion.

“CN is ideally positioned to combine with KCS to create a company with broader reach and greater scale, and to seamlessly connect more customers to rail hubs and ports in the US, Mexico and Canada,” said JJ Ruest, president and chief executive officer of CN.

The KCS board of directors said it will respond after evaluating CN’s proposal in accordance with the terms of its merger agreement with CP.

CP, meanwhile, called CN’s proposal “massively complex and likely to fail.”

“The Canadian National management team has significantly underperformed over a decade and has a track record of underdelivering against its own projections,” CP said.

For now, plans for the combined rail company were moving forward. The Canadian Pacific Kansas City is expected to generate greater competition as it expands to 20,000 miles of rail and 20,000 employees. With expected revenues of about $8.7 billion, the merged rail network would remain the smallest of six Class 1 railroads.

Rail activity

Total US weekly rail traffic in the week ended April 24 was 538,184 carloads and intermodal units, up 30% compared with the same week in 2020, according to the American Association of Railroads. Separately, US carloads totaled 240,075, up 25% year-over-year, while US intermodal volume was 298,109 containers and trailers, up 34% compared to 2020.

Grain carloads on US railroads totaled 25,467, an 18% increase from the same week a year earlier, bringing cumulative 2021 US grain carloads to 405,187 for an average of 25,324 per week, a 24% increase over the same period in 2020.

Each of the 10 US carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week a year ago. That represents a turnaround for most categories. For the first quarter, grain was the only category to consistently show year-over-year increases each week.

Canadian railroads in the week ended April 24 reported 77,900 carloads, up 9% from the same week in 2020. Canadian grain carloads in the week totaled 10,308, a 3% increase over the same week in 2020, bringing the 2021 total to 165,962 for an average of 10,373 per week, up 31% from the same period in 2020.

Mexican railroads reported 21,100 carloads for the week, up 53% compared with the same week in 2020. Mexican grain carloads in the week totaled 2,072, up 2% from the same week a year ago, bringing the 2021 total for the category to 29,823 carloads for an average of 1,864 per week, down 14% from the same period a year earlier.

Rail volume for the North American continent in the week ended April 24 on 12 reporting US, Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 339,075 carloads, up 22% compared with the same week last year. Total North American grain carloads was 37,847, up 13% from the same week a year earlier, bringing the 2021 total for the category to 600,972 for an average of 37,561, a 23% increase from the same period in 2020.

The average May shuttle secondary rail car bids/offers were $92 above tariff per car in the week ended April 15, according to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. This was $33 lower than the prior week and $140 more than the same week in 2020. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.

Barge activity

Barge grain movements in the week ended April 17 totaled 798,298 tons, down 12% from the previous week but up 21% compared with the same period last year, the US Army Corps of Engineers said.

In the same week, 505 grain barges moved down river, 100 barges fewer than the previous week, according to the Corps and AMS. There were 626 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, a decline of 3% from the previous week.

Ocean freight

Thirty three oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf in the week ended April 15, 7% more than the same period in 2020. In the 10 days from April 16, 49 vessels were expected to be loaded, up 23% from the same period last year.

The rate for shipping one tonne of grain from the US Gulf to Japan was $58 on April 15, down 5% from the previous week. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $34 per tonne, 4% less than the previous week, the AMS said.


In the week ended April 19, the US average diesel fuel price was $3.124 per gallon, down 0.5¢ from the previous week, but 64.4¢ higher than in the same week last year, the US Department of Energy said.

The Department’s Energy Information Administration said on-highway diesel fuel price averages per gallon by region in that week were:

  • New England, 3.071¢
  • Central Atlantic, 3.259¢
  • Lower Atlantic, 2.993¢   
  • Midwest, 3.054¢
  • Gulf Coast, 2.923¢
  • Rocky Mountain, 3.232¢
  • West Coast, 3.645¢         
  • West Coast less California, 3.248¢    
  • California, 3.977¢