Iowa’s record 2021 corn harvest spurs rail car surge

By O. Kay Henderson, Radio Iowa
Iowa’s record 2021 corn harvest led to a significant increase in traffic on the rail lines that run through Iowa.

“The car loads of grain in 2021 were the most since 2008. This is mostly due to the high volumes that were being exported. That’s a great spot for our state here in Iowa,” says Iowa DOT director Scott Marler.

Railroad traffic nationwide increased 7% in 2021 compared to 2020, but has not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. The volume of cars and trucks on Iowa streets and highways dropped over 40% at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Our traffic levels are pretty much back to pre-pandemic levels, but they’re different than what they used to be,” Marler says. “…In our cities and urban areas, we’re still seeing a slightly depressed amount of traffic volumes. We think this might be one of the trends from teleworking that we hear about. In our rural areas, by contrast, our traffic levels are actually a little higher than pre-pandemic levels.”

Marler says that’s likely because of the high volume of trucks carrying freight on Iowa highways and interstates.

Passenger traffic at Iowa airports that offer commercial flights dropped significantly during the first year of the pandemic and Marler says it’s bouncing back. “We’re not back to pre-pandemic levels with passenger counts at our eight commercial service airports, but we’re close,” he says, “within about 10-15% of pre-pandemic levels.”

Marler made his comments during a briefing yesterday for the Iowa House Transportation Committee.