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US weekly coal carloads drop to eight-month low: AAR

US coal carload originations fell to an eight-month low 48,745 in the week that ended Feb. 20, down 10.6% from 54,496 a week earlier and the lowest since 48,699 in the week ended June 6, 2020, as a winter storm delayed shipments across the US, according to a Feb. 24 report from the Association of American Railroads.

The latest week was also down 23.4% from the year-ago week and 38.4% lower than the five-year average. It was also the lowest total for the corresponding week in over 11 years.

Coal carloads represented 12.9% of all the traffic on US railways, up from 11.3% a week earlier but down from 13.2% in the year-ago week.

Since Jan. 1, cumulative coal carloads are at 406,636, down 13.5% from the same period a year ago.

Coal originations on Canadian railroads – including the US operations of Canadian National, which serves several mines in the Illinois Basin – rose to 6,927 carloads, up from the four-month low 6,140 carloads a week earlier and 5,155 carloads in the year-ago week. It was the most carloads for the corresponding week since 7,023 in the week ended Feb. 20, 2016.

For only the fifth time in the last 10 months, all four major Class I railroads — Norfolk Southern, CSX, Union Pacific and BNSF – saw weekly decreases, while NS was the only one with a year-on-year increase.

BNSF reported a nine-month low 20,343 coal carload originations and interchanges in the latest week, down 9.8% from the prior week and 32.6% lower than in the year-ago week, according to rail-reported data. It was the lowest weekly total since 19,234 in the week ended May 16, 2020.

So far in 2021, total BNSF carloads are at 180,243, down 17.2% from the same period a year earlier.

Union Pacific reported a five-week low 10,581 coal carload movements in the most recent week, down 14% from the previous week and 30.8% lower year on year.

Cumulative coal carloads so far in 2021 for UP are at 85,506, down 19.7% from the same period a year ago.

CSX coal carloads declined to a seven-week low 10,181, down 4.6% from a week earlier and 20% lower than the year-ago week.

Since Jan. 1, CSX coal carloads have totaled 86,266, down 6.6% from a year ago.

Norfolk Southern reported a six-week low 10,667 coal cars loaded in the latest week, down 4.6% from the prior week, but up 14.7% on the year.

Total coal carloads for NS are at 81,888 since Jan. 1, down 4.2% from the same period a year ago.

Source: Platts

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