Rail Week Ending 03 May 2014: Strength Continues

May 8th, 2014
in econ_news, syndication

Econintersect: Week 18 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 growth continues.

Follow up:

This analysis is looking for clues in the rail data to show the direction of economic activity - and is not necessarily looking 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 quantities accelerating or decelerating Current rolling average accelerating or decelerating compared to the rolling average one year ago
4 week rolling average 7.2% accelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average 4.8% accelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average 3.0% accelerating accelerating

A summary of the data from the AAR:

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported increased U.S. rail traffic for April 2014, with both carload and intermodal volume increasing compared with April 2013. Intermodal traffic in April totaled 1,316,176 containers and trailers, up 9 percent (108,485 units) compared with April 2013, and the 53rd-consecutive year-over-year monthly increase for intermodal volume. The weekly average of 263,235 intermodal units on U.S. railroads in April 2014 was easily the highest for any April in history and was the second highest for any month in history.

Meanwhile, U.S. carload originations totaled 1,481,586 in April 2014, up 6.4 percent (88,801 carloads) over April 2013. Fourteen of the 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw year-over-year carload increases in April. Commodities with the biggest carload increases included coal, up 34,502 carloads, or 6.4 percent; grain, up 22,683 carloads, or 27.6 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel, 10,194 carloads, or 9.5 percent; and petroleum and petroleum products, up 5,316 carloads, or 7.6 percent.

Commodity categories with carload declines last month included metallic ores, down 8,408 carloads, or 27 percent; and food products, down 972 carloads, or 3 percent.

Excluding coal and grain, carloads were up 31,616 carloads, or 4.1 percent in April, the biggest such percentage increase in six months.

“April was a good month for rail traffic, as carload and intermodal volume rebounded from disappointing winter months,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “As is the case for a number of economic indicators that have shown recent improvement, the key question is how much of the rail traffic increase in April represents a catch-up from the winter and how much is a sign of stronger underlying growth. It’s probably some of both.”

AAR today also reported increased rail traffic for the week ending May 3, 2014. U.S. railroads originated 297,432 carloads last week, up 4.8 percent compared with the same week last year, while intermodal volume for the week totaled 267,369 units, up 8.8 percent compared with the same week last year. Total U.S. rail traffic for the week was 564,801 carloads and intermodal units, up 6.6 percent compared with the same week last year.

Eight of the 10 carload commodity groups tracked on a weekly basis posted increases compared with the same week in 2013, led by grain, with 21,018 carloads, up 24.8 percent. The groups showing a decrease in weekly traffic were led by metallic ores and metals, with 24,912 carloads, down 4.4 percent.

For the first 18 weeks of 2014, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 5,084,325 carloads, up 2.4 percent (120,557 carloads) from the same point last year, and 4,519,175 intermodal units, up 5.3 percent (226,557 carloads) from last year. Total U.S. traffic for the first 18 weeks of 2014 was 9,603,500 carloads and intermodal units, up 3.7 percent from last year.

USA coal production is up 0.6% same week year-over-year - and coal accounts for well over 1/3rd 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 4.8% 8.8% 6.6%
Ignoring coal and grain 3.9%
Year Cumulative to Date 2.4% 5.3% 3.7%


[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart


/images/z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended May 03, 2014:

  • U.S. coal production totaled approximately 18.8 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 1.3% lower than last week's estimate and 0.6% higher than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2013
  • Coal production east of the Mississippi River totaled 8.0 mmst
  • Coal production west of the Mississippi River totaled 10.7 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 332.5 mmst, 0.4% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2013

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