By Andrew Moore
July 1, 2021 - US coal carloads totaled 66,595 in the week ended June 26, down 1.8% from the prior week but up 30.3% from the year-ago week, data from the Association of American Railroads showed June 30.
The Washington-based association said for some rail traffic categories, percentage changes for the current week compared with the same week in 2020 were inflated because of the widespread shutdowns, and subsequent large reduction in rail volumes, that impacted many economic sectors last year.
On a year-to-date basis, coal carloads are now up 11% compared with the same period a year-ago, after starting the year with negative comparisons.
Coal carloads are likely to increase throughout the year due to higher natural gas prices, which will make coal more competitive against natural gas. In its most recent Short-Term Energy Outlook, the US Energy Information Administration forecast Henry Hub natural gas prices to average $3.19/MMBtu this year, although the price settled June 30 at $3.65/MMBtu.
In 2020, the Henry Hub price averaged $2.13/MMBtu.
The Eastern US railroads, CSX and Norfolk Southern, both continue to show strong increases in volumes on a year-to-date basis, likely due to the increase in metallurgical coal pricing. S&P Global Platts assessed FOB US East Coast High Vol A met coal on June 30 at $193/mt, up from $140/mt at the start of the year.
CSX reported 13,276 carloads for the week ended June 26, up 3.2% from the prior week but up 52% from the year-ago week. On a year-to-date basis, CSX coal carloads are up 13.8%.
NS reported 10,639 carloads, down 9.1% from the prior week but up 27.2% from last year. Year-to-date volumes are up 22.8%.
Union Pacific, which primarily operates in the Western US, reported 16,643 carloads, its highest amount of the year, up 6.4% from the prior week and up 24.1% from the year-ago week. Coal volumes on a year-to-date basis are down 3.8%.
BSNF Railway, which also operates primarily in the US West, reported 29,985 carloads, down 7.2% from the prior week but up 21.5% from the year-ago week. Annual volumes are up 7.2% on a year-to-date basis.