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Railway carloadings, July 2021

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Released: 2021-09-27

Railway carloadings, total tonnage

28.3 million metric tonnes

July 2021

-4.0% decrease

(12-month change)


The volume of cargo carried by Canadian railways was 28.3 million tonnes in July, down 4.0% from July 2020 levels. This marked the first notable year-over-year decline in rail volumes in eight months, when the industry emerged from the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic last fall.

The overall freight volume was at the lowest level for the month of July since 2016. Fewer shipments of grains and other commodities were the main contributors, as there were wildfires burning across British Columbia that damaged rail lines and caused a backlog of some shipments.

To further explore current and historical data in an interactive format, please visit the Monthly Railway Carloadings: Interactive Dashboard.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Railway carloadings, total tonnage
Railway carloadings, total tonnage

Cumulative tonnage remains strong

Despite the decline in July, the volume of goods moved by rail during the first seven months of 2021 totalled 212.8 million tonnes, up 2.3% compared with the same period in 2020. This cumulative total is the third highest value on record for the January-to-July period.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Railway carloading components, total tonnage, January to July, 2017 to 2021
Railway carloading components, total tonnage, January to July, 2017 to 2021

Traffic decline steeper in west

In July, there were temporary disruptions to some rail movements in western Canada amid wildfires that destroyed mainline railway track near Lytton in southern British Columbia. As a result, the decline in total traffic carried during July reflected a steep 6.1% drop in western Canada compared with the same month in 2020, while eastern Canada edged down 0.6%.

Grains lead decline

Non-intermodal rail carloadings drove the overall decline in July, falling 9.0% year over year to 21.8 million tonnes in July, led by declines in some agricultural and food products. In particular, loadings of canola declined year over year for the fifth consecutive month, dropping by 58.5% (-702 000 tonnes) in July, the largest drop recorded in more than 20 years. Similarly, carloadings of wheat dipped 28.6% (-694 000 tonnes) in July, the third month of decline in a row.

July's decline in grain traffic reflected several factors, including the ongoing depletion of inventories and the temporary backlog of rail cars because of the mainline outages west of Kamloops caused by the wildfires in British Columbia. Canada's exports of wheat and canola also suffered in July, declining year over year by 33.2% and 5.8%, respectively, according to the International trade monthly interactive dashboard.

In addition, loadings of iron ores and concentrates loadings fell 9.1% (-477 000 tonnes) from July 2020, the third consecutive year-over-year decline. While smaller than the drops recorded in June (-28.0%) and May (-45.2%), it still reflected lingering production disruptions at a Quebec-Labrador mine site.

Loadings of coal posted a year-over-year decrease after two consecutive months of increases, decreasing 14.8% (-378 000 tonnes) from July 2020.

Other significant decreases were also reported for potash, with loadings down 13.7% (-271 000 tonnes) in July from the same period a year ago.

Chart 3  Chart 3: Railway carloadings, largest commodity differences, July 2020 to July 2021
Railway carloadings, largest commodity differences, July 2020 to July 2021 

Fuel oils and crude up for the third month

Partly offsetting declines were large tonnage increases in loadings of some hydrocarbon-based commodities. After recording substantial year-over-year declines for over a year, loadings of fuel oils and crude petroleum rose for the third month in a row, up by 71.3% (+478 000 tonnes) from the same month a year ago, following strong growth in June (+91.6%) and May (+43.9%).

Rising global fuel consumption amid the easing of COVID-19-related restrictions led to strong demand for energy products. Loadings of gaseous hydrocarbons, including liquefied petroleum gas, also grew 23.7% (+123 000 tonnes) from July 2020, following similar year-over-year increases in June (+28.2%) and May (+29.8%).

In addition, loadings of iron and steel, primary or semi-finished, posted a year-over-year gain for a sixth consecutive month, rising 37.9% (+110 000 tonnes) from July 2020. This strong demand for metals may reflect infrastructure investments designed to stimulate economic recovery. Indeed, the Monthly Survey of Manufacturing reported a hefty year-over-year increase of 57.7% for primary metal manufacturing sales in July.

Loadings of metallic waste and scrap also rose, up 23.5% (+61 000 tonnes) compared with the same month in 2020, following a 1.3% decline in June.

Finally, loadings of other chemical products and preparations increased by 34.3% (+55 000 tonnes) year over year in July, following similar increases in June (+46.6%) and May (+30.2%).

Intermodal loadings tempered in the west

Intermodal shipments—mainly containers—originating in Canada totalled just over 2.8 million tonnes in July, up 8.4% from July 2020, following larger year-over-year increases in June (+28.6%) and May (+35.2%).

July's increase was tempered by the wildfires that destroyed mainline railway track near Lytton in southern British Columbia, delaying shipments to and from the Port of Vancouver. The tonnage of intermodal shipments in western Canada edged down 0.2% in July, while those in eastern Canada continued their upward pace, rising by 20.5% from the same month in 2020.

American freight remains up

Also helping to offset the tonnage decline in non-intermodal or commodity loadings was freight traffic connecting from the United States, which posted a year-over-year increase for a fifth consecutive month. These connections rose 26.1% to 3.7 million tonnes in July, following an even stronger gain in June (+36.1%).

  Note to readers

The Monthly Railway Carloadings Survey collects data on the number of rail cars, tonnage, units and 20-feet equivalent units from railway transporters operating in Canada that provide for-hire freight services.

Cargo loadings from Armstrong, Ontario, to the Atlantic Coast are classified to the eastern division (eastern Canada), while loadings from Thunder Bay, Ontario, to the Pacific Coast are classified to the western division (western Canada).

Survey data are revised on a monthly basis to reflect new information. In this release, data revisions have been made back to May 2021 affecting the classification of two commodities: alumina and other metallic ores and concentrates.

The data in this release are not seasonally adjusted.

The Transportation Data and Information Hub, a web portal developed jointly by Statistics Canada and Transport Canada, provides Canadians with online access to comprehensive statistics and measures on the country's transportation sector.

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; or Media Relations (613-951-4636;

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