AAR: Rail Carloads Down, Intermodal Volumes Up
Recently, rail carload and intermodal volumes, for the month of October, were released by the (AAR). Within the , the answers were mixed. Rail carloads are on a downward spiral, while intermodal volume seems to be on the rise ─ in fact, the latter just turned in its best monthly performance on record.
Rail carloads─at 912,772─fell 6.6 per cent, or 64,634 carloads annually. Even though there has been widespread loss across the board, the AAR did reveal that 10 of the 20 carload commodity groups that it monitors saw significant year-on-year gains in October 2020. These groups included:
Commodity Groups on the Rise
- Grain: up 21,557 carloads (25.5 per cent),
- Iron & steel scrap: up 3,579 carloads (29.1 per cent),
- Waste & nonferrous scrap: up 1,527 carloads (11.2 per cent).
Commodity Groups on the Decline
- Coal: down 56,343 carloads (19.1 per cent),
- Crushed stone, sand, and gravel: down 14,275 carloads (16 per cent),
- Petroleum & Petroleum products: down 10,199 carloads (20 per cent).
If you exclude coal from the equation, the United States’ October rail carloads were off 8,291 carloads, which is 1.2 per cent annually, and if you omit grain from the gains, they were down 29,848 carloads ─ 5 per cent.
Intermodal containers and trailers─at 1,169,874─increased exponentially with a rise of 10 per cent, or 105,966 units, annually, as they surged towards the high-volume intermodal month on record.
“Thanks largely to rising imports and inventory restocking in preparation for the holidays, October was the best month ever for U.S rail intermodal, with volumes up by a third from April of this year. That’s a stunning increase in six months,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray in a statement.
“Meanwhile, U.S rail carloads rose in October for 10 of the 20 carload categories we track, the most since the pandemic began. Carloads of grain in October were their highest in 13 years, while carloads of motor vehicles and parts have recovered after falling close to 90% earlier this year. Changes in energy markets continue to pressure carloads of coal, petroleum products, and frac sand and holding back total carloads. Excluding those three categories, carloads in October were a few percentage points higher than last year,” he added.
DHL Claim Multi-Sector Collaboration Key to Fighting COVID
Since January, global logistics leader DHL has distributed more than 200 million doses of the COVID vaccine to 120+ countries around the globe. While the US and UK recently rolled out immunisation plans to most citizens, countries with less developed infrastructure still desperately need more doses. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which currently has one of the highest per-capita immunisation rates, the government set up storage facilities to cover domestic and international demand. But storage, as we’ve learned, is little help if you can’t transport the goods.
This is where logistics leaders such as DHL make their impact. The company built over 50 new partnerships, bilateral and multilateral, to collaborate with pharmaceutical and private sector firms. With more than 350 DHL centres pressed into service, the group operated 9,000+ flights to ship the vaccine where it needed to go.
With new pandemic knowledge, DHL just released its “Revisiting Pandemic Resilience” white paper, which examined the role of logistics and supply chain companies in handling COVID-19. As Thomas Ellman, Head of Clinical Trials Logistics at DHL, said: “The past one year has highlighted the importance of logistics and supply chain management to manage the pandemic, ensure business continuity and protect public health. It has also shown us that together we are stronger”.
Multisector partnerships, DHL said, enabled rapid, effective vaccine distribution. While international scientists developed a vaccine in record time—five times faster than any other vaccine in history—manufacturers ramped up production and logistics teams rolled out distribution three times faster than expected. When commercial routes faced backups, logistics operators worked with military officers to transport vaccines via helicopters and boats.
In the UAE, the public-private HOPE Consortium distributed billions of COVID-19 doses to its civilians as well as other countries in need by partnering with commercial organisations such as DHL. For the first time, apropo for an unprecedented pandemic, logistics companies made strong connections with public health and government.
“While the race against the virus continues, leveraging the power of such collaborations and data analytics will be key”, said Katja Busch, Chief Commercial Officer DHL and Head of DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation. “We need to remain prepared for high patient and vaccine volumes, maintain logistics infrastructure and capacity, while planning for seasonal fluctuations by providing a stable and well-equipped platform for the years to come”.
How Do We Sustain Immunisation?
By the end of 2021, experts estimate that we need approximately 10 billion doses of vaccines—many of which will be shipped to areas of the world, such as India, South Africa, and Brazil, that lack significant infrastructure. This is perhaps the greatest divide between countries that have rolled out successful immunisation programmes and those that have not. As Busch noted, “the UAE’s significant investments in creating robust air, sea, and land infrastructure facilitated logistics and vaccine distribution, helping us keep supply chains resilient”.
Neither is the novel coronavirus a one-time affair. If predictions hold, COVID will be similar to seasonal colds or the flu: here to stay. When fall comes around each year, governments will need to vaccinate the world as quickly as possible to ensure long-term immunisation against the virus. This time, logistics companies must be better prepared.
Yet global immunisation, year after year, is no small order. To keep reinfection rates low and slow the spread of COVID, governments will likely need 7-9 billion annual doses of the vaccine to meet that mark. And if DHL’s white paper is any judge of success, multi-sector supply chain partnerships will set the gold standard.