KANSAS CITY — Placement of empty rail cars in western Kansas, eastern Colorado and other prominent origination sites for grain in the central and southern US Plains continued to lag last week.
Brokers and merchandisers estimated most rail equipment intended for loading grain was arriving two to three weeks behind schedule. Some shippers last week said they had just received cars ordered for mid- to late-March.
Traders said railroad logistical challenges were less severe, and more typical in the Central states and Mid-South. Rail activity in Michigan featured typical issues, but was no further behind than a typical year, Michigan flour millers said.
Late last month, the Association of American Railroads announced a partnership with Railinc and a coalition of agricultural shippers that will institute an online portal designed to ensure safety standards are met and to prevent cross-contact with food allergens.
A secure, searchable user interface is expected to go live in late 2021. It will share essential information about previous contents of a rail car, making it easier for shippers to comply with the US Food and Drug Administration’s food sanitary transportation rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act. Railinc’s portal will rely on the company’s industry knowledge and management of critical industry systems that track nearly most equipment in the North American rail fleet and the commodities transported.
“Thanks to funding and leadership provided by AAR and Railinc, agricultural shippers will have access to a reliable resource to obtain information on the last three loads hauled in railcars, which is crucial to food safety and regulatory compliance,” said Mike Seyfert, president and chief executive officer of the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA). “NGFA also is grateful to the operational and technical experts representing industry users on a joint working group that was engaged at the outset in designing this new resource to ensure it has the functionality companies need.”
Along with Railinc, AAR and NGFA, the partnership includes the North American Millers’ Association, the National Oilseed Processors Association, the Pet Food Institute, and the American Bakers Association.
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service said the average May shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers were $42 per car below tariff for the week in the week ended April 29. This was $80 less than the previous week and $107 more than the same week last year.
The Association of American Railroads released rail traffic statistics for the month of April as well as the latest week.
In April, US railroads originated 951,840 carloads, up 24%, or 182,060 carloads, from the same month last year. In the same month, US railroads also originated 1,173,952 containers and, up 34%, or 296,758 units, from April 2020.
During April, 17 of 20 specific carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw carload gains compared with April 2020, including coal, motor vehicles and parts and chemicals. Commodities that saw year-over-year declines were crushed stone, sand and gravel; primary forest products; and farm products excluding grain, the latter down 74 carloads or 2%.
Some carload categories have recovered ground lost during the pandemic or are close to pre-pandemic levels, said John T. Gray, senior vice president of AAR, in comments accompanying the report.
“For example, April set a new all-time record for intermodal, driven by surging international trade and strong consumer spending,” Mr. Gray said. “Meanwhile, carloads of grain, food, lumber, paper, scrap metal and several other categories were higher in April 2021 than they were in both April 2020 and in April 2019. Carloads of chemicals and steel in April 2021 were much higher than last year and just shy of April 2019 levels.”
US carload traffic for January-April 2021 totaled 3,862,937 carloads, up 3%, or 104,793 carloads, from the same period in 2020, and 4,793,498 intermodal units, up 18%, or 718,271 containers and trailers, from last year. Total combined US traffic for the first 17 weeks of 2021 was 8,656,435 carloads and intermodal units, up 11% over the same period in 2020.
In the week ended May 1, US weekly rail traffic totaled 540,667 carloads and intermodal units, up 30% compared with the same week last year. US rail carloads in the latest week totaled 240,858, up 27% year-over-year, while US weekly intermodal volume was 299,809 containers and trailers, up 32% compared to 2020.
For the second consecutive week, each of the 10 general carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2020. Grain carloads in the week totaled 28,097, up 24% year-over-year, which brought the 2021 cumulative total for grain to 433,284 carloads for an average of 25,487 per week, up 24% from the same period in 2020.
Canadian railroads reported 79,618 carloads for the week, up 16%, and 70,192 intermodal units, up 1% compared with the same week in 2020. Canadian grain carloads in the week totaled 11,470, up 11% year-over-year, bringing 2021 cumulative Canadian grain carloads to 177,432 for an average of 10,437 per week, a 30% increase over the same period in 2020.
Mexican railroads reported 20,924 carloads for the week, up 70% compared with the same week last year. Mexican grain carloads in the week totaled 1,856, down 21% from the same week a year ago, the only commodity group to post a year-over-year decline. Cumulative Mexican grain carloads for 2021 rose to 31,679 for an average of 1,863 per week, down 14% compared with the same week in 2020.
North American rail volume for the week ended May 1 on 12 reporting US, Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 341,400 carloads, up 26% compared with the same week last year, and 385,743 intermodal units, up 25% compared with last year. North American grain carloads in the week totaled 41,423, up 17% from the same week a year earlier, bringing the 2021 cumulative carloads to 642,395 for an average of 37,788 per week, up 23% from the same period in 2020.
Barge grain movements in the week ended May 1 totaled 671,536 tons, down 30% from the prior week but up 1% compared with the same period in 2020, according to the US Army Corps of Engineers.
In the same week, 438 grain barges moved down river, 159 fewer barges than the previous week. There were 809 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, up 11% from the previous week, the Corps and AMS said.
Thirty-five oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf in the week ended April 29, down 3% from the same period in 2020, the AMS said. In the 10 days beginning April 30, 52 vessels were expected to be loaded, which would be a 24% increase over the same period last year.
On April 29, the rate for shipping one tonne of grain from the US Gulf to Japan was $63, up 1% from the previous week. The rate for shipping one tonne of grain from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $36.50, unchanged from the previous week, the AMS said.
In the week ended May 3, the average diesel fuel price along US highways was $3.142 per gallon, up 1.8¢ from the previous week and up 74.3¢ from the same week last year, according to the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration.
The average on-highway diesel fuel price per gallon by region in the week ended May 3, and change from the prior week:
East Coast: $3.113, up $0.047
New England: $3.084, up $0.031
Central Atlantic: $3.285, up $0.051
Lower Atlantic: $3.004, up $0.047
Midwest: $3.085, up $0.045
Gulf Coast: $2.924, up $0.044
Rocky Mountain: $3.250, up $0.057
West Coast: $3.664, up $0.028
West Coast less California: $3.282, up $0.031
California: $3.983, up $0.025.