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Railway carloadings, May 2022

Released: 2022-07-22

Railway carloadings, total tonnage

32.1 million metric tonnes

May 2022

8.7% increase

(12-month change)

Highlights

Canadian railways carried 32.1 million tonnes of freight in May, up 8.7% from May 2021 levels and ending the string of eight straight year-over-year monthly decreases in tonnage. Higher shipments of iron ores and some energy products more than offset a continued slide in agricultural and food products.

The overall traffic volume was also the highest level for May since 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and it exceeded the five-year average of 31.3 million tonnes for the month.

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

The rail traffic growth in May was the result of higher volumes across all types of rail operations: non-intermodal loadings (mainly commodities) and intermodal loadings (mainly containers), as well as freight traffic from connections with American railways.

Iron ores and concentrates carloadings up sharply

After posting year-over-year decreases for eight months, non-intermodal rail freight grew 7.2% to 24.6 million tonnes in May. Leading the way was iron ores and concentrates, with loadings rising 83.1% (+2 414 000 million tonnes) from the same month in 2021. Although demand for iron ores has been growing in recent months, this sharp increase in May reflected a temporary shutdown of production at a Quebec-Labrador mine in May 2021, due to a labour dispute.

Loadings of many energy products continued to exhibit strong growth, with the continued recovery of economic activity sparking a rise in fuel consumption and industrial production. For example, loadings of coal―driven by strong demand in Asia―rose for the fourth consecutive month, up 15.5% (+476 000 tonnes) from May 2021. Sharply rising gas prices and constraints on European energy supplies resulting from the war in Ukraine are also increasing demand for coal.

Similarly, loadings of other refined petroleum and coal products (e.g., propane, butane), on an upward trend since April 2021, grew 77.4% (+292 000 tonnes) in May compared with May 2021. This rise followed substantial year-over-year increases in March 2022 (+59.9%) and April 2022 (+79.7%).

With global travel ramping up amid further easing of restrictions, loadings of gasoline and aviation turbine fuel rose year over year for the 14th month in a row, up 115.6% (+143 000 tonnes). This was the largest such increase ever recorded.

Finally, loadings of fuel oil and crude petroleum rose 10.9% (+108 000 tonnes) year over year in May, a second consecutive increase.

Similar trends were observed in Canadian international merchandise trade, with higher prices helping exports of energy products to reach 29.8% of total exports, an all-time high in May.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Railway carloadings, largest commodity differences, May 2021 to May 2022
Railway carloadings, largest commodity differences, May 2021 to May 2022

Grain loadings continue to slide

The above-noted growth in non-intermodal freight traffic was moderated by the continued decline in loadings of some agricultural and food products, particularly grains.

Grain shipments by rail have been declining since early 2021 amid the depletion of stocks and lower crop production due to drought conditions in the Prairies during 2021. Loadings of wheat, which have fallen each month since May 2021, dropped 48.3% (-1 059 000 tonnes) in May from the same month in 2021, marking the 13th consecutive month of year-over-year decline.

Similarly, loadings of canola posted a year-over-year decrease for a 15th straight month, down 57.8% (-348 000 tonnes) in May from the same month in 2021, following substantial declines in March 2022 (-61.1%) and April 2022 (-57.5%).

In addition, loadings of other cereal grains fell 32.4% (-200 000 tonnes) year over year in May, the eighth consecutive monthly decline. Meanwhile, fresh, chilled or dried vegetables decreased for the 15th month in a row, down 33.7% (-139 000 tonnes) from the same month a year earlier.

Intermodal traffic remains up

Domestic rail intermodal shipments (mainly containers) increased for the second consecutive month, edging up by 0.9% year over year in May to 3.4 million tonnes. This was the highest monthly volume on record for the month of May.

May growth reflects continued strong demand for consumer goods. According to May 2022 data on Canadian international merchandise trade, Canada's exports (+20.9%) and imports (+11.9%) of consumer goods saw year-over-year increases.

American freight hits another high

In May, freight traffic from the United States continued to grow for the 15th straight month, rising 27.0% year over year to 4.1 million tonnes. This was the highest traffic level ever recorded for the month of May.

  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.

The data in this release are not seasonally adjusted.

The Transportation Data and Information Hub 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; infostats@statcan.gc.ca) or Media Relations (statcan.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.statcan@statcan.gc.ca).

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