According to Statistics Canada, Canadian railways carried 30.0 million tons of freight in April, down 10.0 percent from April 2019. This was the largest year-over-year decrease in five years, excluding the November 2019 rail strike. This is also the first monthly decline in freight that was linked to the activity shutdown in several sectors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Loadings of iron ore and concentrates fell 20.0 percent (-988,000 tons) compared with the same period in 2019, continuing their downward trend that began in November 2019.
Moreover, in April, fuel oil and crude petroleum loadings decreased 33.6 percent (-536,000 tons). This drop was driven by low global oil prices in April, combined with a decrease in freight transportation by road and travel restrictions for the general population on account of the lockdown measures.
The airline industry was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, with domestic and international passenger flights posting drastic decreases in April 2020. As a result, demand for gasoline and aviation turbine fuel fell, resulting in a 78.8 percent drop (-255,000 tons) in railway carloadings of this type of fuel.
Activity in the construction sector also slowed considerably in several provinces and territories in April, which most likely contributed to the decline in lumber loadings, down 25.0 percent (-260,000 tons) versus the same period in 2019.
According to the April 2020 data on international merchandise trade, the motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts industry saw the largest declines in both exports and imports. The drops observed in April came as total merchandise trade for this group was already at its lowest level in nearly five years in March. The decline in vehicle exports contributed to the drop in automobile and minivan loadings, which plummeted 91.3 percent (-132,000 tons) to 13,000 tons.
On the other hand, while there were considerable decreases in most freight carried, this was not so for agricultural products and basic chemical products. For example, canola loadings rose 18.1 percent (+147,000 tons), loadings of fresh, chilled or dried fruit and nuts were up 34.6 percent (+150,000 tons), and potash loadings increased 11.8 percent (+240,000 tons). This gain in agricultural product loadings may be related to the fact that agricultural and agri-food operations were deemed an essential service during the pandemic.