U.S. Grain Transportation: Rail Shipments Make Big Jump

U.S. railroads originated 25,819 carloads of grain during the week ending December 6, up 28 percent from last week, 26 percent from last year, and 25 percent from the 3-year average.

This is the most grain shipped by rail since 25,913 carloads of grain were shipped during the week ending January 8, 2011. Grain movements on BNSF Railway (BNSF) — 13,080 carloads — accounted for more than half of the total movement.

This is BNSF’s highest weekly amount since the week ending September 4, 2010 at 13,284 and shows recent improvement over the rail service problems that affected shipments last year. In contrast, BNSF hauled only 8,068 carloads of grain during the same week last year.

Wheat Inspections Rebound

For the week ending December 11, total inspections of wheat from all major export regions reached .381 million metric tons (m mt), up 45 percent from the past week, down 20 percent from last year, and 8 percent below the 3 – year average. Shipments of wheat increased primarily to Asia and Latin America.

Inspections of corn increased 4 percent from the previous week, but soybean inspections decreased 15 percent as shipments from the Pacific Northwest dropped 34 percent.

Total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, soybeans) reached 2.8 mmt, down 7 percent from the past week, up 1 percent from last year, and 17 percent above the 3 – year average.

Above-Average Grain Barge Tonnages Continue

During the first half of December, downbound barge grain tonnages on the locking portion of the river system averaged 951,000 tons per week, 12 percent higher than the 5 – year average. Year-to-date tonnages reached 33.7 million tons, 49 percent higher than last year and 13 percent above the 5 – year average.

Since early December, ice accumulations have stopped Mississippi River traffic above Dubuque, IA (near Lock 11). On December 15, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) closed Lock and Dam 13, Fulton, IA, for repairs, which are expected to be completed by March 4, 2015.

On January 5, 2015, the Corps will close Lock and Dam 20, Canton, MO, for 2 months of repair work. During that time, much of the Upper Mississippi River will be closed, but traffic will continue, weather permitting, on the Illinois and Ohio Rivers.

Diesel Fuel Prices Fall In Response to Falling Oil Prices

During the week ending December 15, U.S. average diesel fuel prices decreased 12 cents from the previous week to $3.42 per gallon — down 45 cents from the same week last year. Diesel fuel prices have not been this low since January 2011 and a fall in prices this steep has not occurred since November 2008.

This dramatic decrease is in response to falling crude oil futures prices which fell below $60 per barrel over the past week.

Snapshots by Sector

  • Export Sales During the week ending December 4, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 36.5 mmt, 14 percent lower than the same time last year. Corn export sales reached 0.96 mmt, down 18 percent from the last week but up 9 percent from the previous 4 – week average; wheat — 442,300 mt, up 39 percent; and, soybeans — 0.8 mmt, down 31 percent.
  • Rail During the week ending December 11, average December shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers per car were $138 be low tariff, down $100 from last week and $2,088 lower than last year. There were no non – shuttle bids/offers.
  • Barge During the week ending December 13 barge grain movements totaled 1,048,304 tons — 22.8 percent higher than the previous week and 38 percent higher than the same period last year. During the week ending December 13, 665 grain barges moved down river, up 20.7 percent from last week; 967 grain barges were unloaded in New Orleans, up 24.5 percent from the previous week.
  • Ocean During the week ending December 11, 42 ocean – going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf, 53.3 percent less than the same period last year. Eighty – eight vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days, 27.5 percent more than the same period last year. During the week ending December 12 , the ocean freight rate for shipping bulk grain from the Gulf to Japan was $41.50 per mt, down 2 percent from the previous week. The cost of shipping from the PNW to Japan was $22.50 per mt, down 2 percent from the previous week.

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