News & Reviews News Wire Five of the six Class I railroads see volume declines in 2023

Five of the six Class I railroads see volume declines in 2023

By Bill Stephens | January 4, 2024

Only CPKC was in positive territory for the year

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Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern locomotives lead a Canadian Pacific Kansas City grain train. CPKC

Canadian Pacific Kansas City was the only Class I railroad that was able to eke out higher volume last year.

CPKC’s traffic was up a scant 0.1% in 2023, which was a down year for North American freight volume. Rail traffic in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico was down a combined 2.1% last year, according to Association of American Railroads data.

The other five Class I railroads all lost volume, according to their final weekly AAR carload reports for 2023.

Union Pacific, which saw its volume fall 1%, was in second place overall and captured first place among U.S. railroads.

In the East, CSX and Norfolk Southern posted identical 1.3% declines.

Canadian National’s volume fell 5.1%, largely due to a 15% drop in intermodal volume.

In the basement: BNSF Railway, whose traffic slumped 5.7% for the year, with grain traffic declining 12% and intermodal traffic down 9.5% due in part to the loss of Schneider domestic intermodal business to UP.

There was good news in the traffic data, however, as volume accelerated as the year drew to a close. Fourth-quarter volume was up on all of the big systems with the exception of CN.

BNSF’s fourth-quarter volume was up 4.1%, UP’s 4%, NS 3.2%, CPKC 2.3%, and CSX 1.7%. CN’s fourth-quarter volume declined 1%.

U.S. rail traffic declined 2.3% in 2023, with intermodal down 4.9% and carload traffic up 0.7% compared to 2022, the AAR reported this week. Compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019, overall U.S. rail traffic was down 8.7% in 2023, with intermodal slumping 7.7% and carload traffic down 9.8%, according to AAR data. A big factor in the carload numbers: A 14.5% drop in coal volume between 2019 and 2023.

4 thoughts on “Five of the six Class I railroads see volume declines in 2023

  1. Looks like CPkc accountants used liberal rounding up of numbers to make sure they were at least at 0.1.

  2. A 15% drop for coal is certainly only the beginning. Domestic demand is about to fall off a cliff with nearly all US coal plants expected to close by 2030, and any stragglers paying so much through the nose for coal transport that they’ll be forced to close too.

    But, the AAR and its members are all about maintaining status quo ad infinitum, until reality bites.

    1. Most of our coal is shipped overseas as there are still countries that are still very hungry for coal. So it’s not going anywhere no time soon.

    2. And hopefully the politics change as a modern coal flexfuel NG power plant has a small clean footprint and can burn both resources at the lowest cost. The public will only let extremist control utility licensing etc for so long after paying exorbitant prices. Or seeing their land and views take by windfarms that produce less power than a small footprint powerplant.

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