Transportation Volumes Jumped in March

OTTAWA - May 27/20 - SNS -- Despite the impact the COVID-19 coronavirus had on Canada's manufacturing sector in March, movement of raw materials and other goods by rail increased substantially over the same month last year.

Statistics Canada notes that "manufacturing sales in March . . . fell to their lowest level since June 2016. During the same period, the report on international merchandise trade highlighted the early impact of COVID-19 on manufacturers in North America. Despite these declines, in March, 33.2 million metric tons (MT) of merchandise travelled on Canadian railways, up 4.7% compared with the same month in 2019.

In March, 26.6 million MT of non-intermodal loadings were carried, an increase of 5.5% from the same period in 2019. Fuel oil and crude petroleum loadings posted the largest gain, rising 39.1% to 1.9 million MT.

"Rail carriers seem to be taking advantage of the measure implemented by the Alberta Energy Regulator in December 2019 that gave oil producers permission to increase their oil production, as long as the additional product is shipped outside the province and rail capacity can accommodate this increase," Statistics Canada noted.

March saw considerable increases in loadings of some of agricultural products. In particular with respect to wheat (+21.5% or +405 000 MT), canola (51.0% or +397 000 MT) and fresh, chilled or dried vegetables (+73.5% or +189 000 MT).

Loadings of iron ores and concentrates fell 12.9% (-642 000 MT) in March, continuing their downward trend that began in November 2019. Some of the factors that fuelled this decline included the temporary closure of a mining operation and scaling back of mining activities to a minimum to help stop the spread of COVID-19, as requested by the different levels of government.

Because of the lockdown measures and travel restrictions to and from numerous countries, many flights were cancelled in March, which resulted in a 35.4% drop (-108 000 MT) in jet fuel loadings.

Another impact of COVID-19 was visible in the 48.1% decrease (-84 000 MT) in road vehicles transported by the Canadian rail network, following the temporary closures imposed on the American vehicle manufacturers. The economic impact of COVID-19 on railway carloadings is expected to become even more noticeable in the months to come.

On another note, the volume of intermodal freight loadings (those moved by containers) decreased 4.0% to 3.1 million MT, compared with the same period in 2019. Finally, freight traffic from US rail connections rose 6.6% to 3.6 million MT in March 2020.