Rail Week Ending 19 April 2014: Rail Is Growing But Details are Mixed

April 24th, 2014
in econ_news, syndication

Econintersect: Week 16 of 2014 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) grew according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. The rolling averages are growing but the direction of growth is mixed. One element this week is that if coal and grain is growth is ignored - the growth is contracting year-over-year.

Follow up:

This analysis is looking for clues in the rail data to show the direction of economic activity - and is not necessarily trying to look for clues of profitability of the railroads. The weekly data is fairly noisy, and the best way to view it is to look at the rolling averages:

Percent current rolling average  is larger than the rolling average of one year ago Current rate of growth accelerating or decelerating Current rolling average accelerating or decelerating compared to the rolling average one year ago
4 week rolling average 8.2% decelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average 4.0% decelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average 2.7% accelerating accelerating

A summary of the data from the AAR:

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported increased U.S. rail traffic for the week ending April 19, 2014 with 290,713 total U.S. carloads, up 5.1 percent compared with the same week last year. Total U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 259,113 units, up 7.6 percent compared with the same week last year. Total combined U.S. weekly rail traffic was 549,826 carloads and intermodal units, up 6.3 percent compared with the same week last year.

Six of the 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2013, including grain with 21,582 carloads, up 36.9 percent, and petroleum and petroleum products with 15,252 carloads, up 12.4 percent. The commodities showing a decrease compared with the same week last year were led by metallic ores and metals with 22,835 carloads, down 8.9 percent.

For the first 16 weeks of 2014, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 4,484,785 carloads, up 1.8 percent compared with the same point last year, and 3,987,578 intermodal units, up 5 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 16 weeks of 2014 was 8,472,363 carloads and intermodal units, up 3.3 percent from last year.

USA coal production is up 4.7% same week year-over-year - and coal accounts for almost half of carloads.

Here is a look at the weekly data comparing it to the same week one year ago, backing out economically less intuitive coal and grain, and comparing growth year-to-date.

This Week
Carloads Intermodal Total
This week Year-over-Year 5.1% 7.6% 6.3%
Ignoring coal and grain -0.4%
Year Cumulative to Date 1.8% 5.0% 3.3%


[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart


/images/z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended April 19, 2014:

  • U.S. coal production totaled approximately 19.0 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 0.5% higher than last week's estimate and 4.7% higher than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2013
  • Coal production east of the Mississippi River totaled 8.2 mmst
  • Coal production west of the Mississippi River totaled 10.9 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 294.7 mmst, 0.8% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2013

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