Rail Week Ending 01 December 2012: Strange but Good Numbers Overall

December 7th, 2012
in econ_news, syndication

Econintersect: Week 48 of 2012 ending 01 December shows same week total rail traffic was below 2011 levels according to data released by the Association of American Railroads (AAR). The data this week was unusual (intemodal down, non-coal carloads up significantly).

  • The carload portion of rail traffic showed same week traffic contracted 2.0% (versus last week's -4.6%).
  • Excluding coal and grain (which are not an economic indicator), rail carloads expanded at 8.5% (last week +5.4%) same week year-over-year.
  • Intermodal same week traffic contracted 1.1% (versus last week's +1.9%)
  • Total same week traffic rail traffic contracted 3.1% (versus last week's -3.1%)

USA coal production is down 10.1% same week year-over-year (see below), and the cumulative effect on rail carloads continues to drag traffic down.

Follow up:

Fourteen of the 20 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2011, with petroleum products, up 65.3 percent; metallic ores, up 27.2 percent, and iron and steel scrap, up 20.2 percent. The groups showing a decrease in weekly traffic included coal, down 12.7 percent; waste and nonferrous scrap, down 5.6 percent, and primary forest products, down 5 percent.

“Coal and grain together account for almost half of non-intermodal U.S. rail traffic, so they are obviously very important to railroads.  But coal and grain carloads often rise or fall for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the economy. Other commodity categories like autos, lumber, and crushed stone, sand and gravel that are more highly correlated with economic growth have been growing, which we hope is a good sign for the economy moving forward,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray.

The majority of the reason for rail year-to-date contraction is coal and grain movements - which would only effect the profitability of railroads, and not an economic indicator as coal is an alternative fuel to oil and natural gas.


This Week
Carloads Intermodal Total
This week Year-over-Year -2.0% -1.1% -1.9%
This week without coal and grain
Year Cumulative to Date -3.1% 3.3% -2.3%


Current Rail Chart


Total (cumulative) year-to-date traffic is contracting year-over-year.

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended December 01, 2012:

  • U.S. coal production totaled approximately 20.3 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 5.9 percent higher than last week's estimate and 10.1 percent lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2011
  • Coal production east of the Mississippi River totaled 8.6 mmst
  • Coal production west of the Mississippi River totaled 11.7 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 940.2 mmst, 6.5 percent lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2011
  • An evaluation of the Weekly Coal Production Report has been done to compare 2011 estimates with 2011 actual Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) production. It is available under "Coal Production Estimates Evaluation".
  • Steven Hansen

    Source: AAR

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