Rail Week Ending 31 May 2014: Another Strong Week

June 5th, 2014
in econ_news, syndication

Econintersect: Week 22 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. Rail growth continues to be impressive, and suggest an expanding economy in the coming months.

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 7.0% decelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average 7.1% decelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average 3.4% accelerating accelerating

A summary of the data from the AAR:

AAR also reported increased U.S. rail traffic for May 2014, with both carload and intermodal volumes increasing compared with May 2013. Intermodal traffic in May totaled 1,045,880 containers and trailers, up 8 percent (77,526 units) compared with May 2013, and the 54th-consecutive year-over-year monthly increase for intermodal volume. The weekly average of 261,470 intermodal units on U.S. railroads in May 2014 was the third-highest average for any month in history.

Meanwhile, U.S. carload originations totaled 1,186,314 in May 2014, up 6.1 percent (68,301 carloads) over May 2013. Total carloads averaged 296,579 per week in May, the highest weekly average for May since 2008 and the highest weekly average for any month since October 2011.

Seventeen of the 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw year-over-year carload increases in May. Commodities with the biggest carload increases included grain, up 18,612 carloads, or 29.7 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 12,256 carloads, or 14.6 percent; and coal, up 12,196 carloads, or 2.8 percent. May marked the seventh straight double-digit year-over-year gain for grain. Railroads have not had a month with 17 of 20 commodity categories increased since the spring of 2010, when the country was just beginning to rebound from the most severe stages of the recession.

Commodity categories with carload declines last month included food products, down 948 carloads, or 3.7 percent; coke, down 666 carloads, or 4.3 percent; and nonmetallic minerals, down 457 carloads, or 2.1 percent.

Excluding coal and grain, carloads were up 37,493 carloads, or 6 percent in May, the biggest such percentage increase since December 2012.

“If you’re looking for a sign that the economy is shaking off its first quarter lethargy, rail traffic in May could be that sign,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “Crushed stone, steel, motor vehicles, lumber, chemicals— the list of commodities showing carload gains in May goes on and on. And intermodal continues to surge. All in all, there’s very little to dislike about May’s rail traffic figures. We hope it really is a sign that the economy is beginning a period of solid growth.”

AAR today also reported increased rail traffic for the week ending May 31, 2014. U.S. railroads originated 289,633 carloads last week, up 7.6 percent compared with the same week last year, while intermodal volume for the week totaled 242,092 units, up 9.1 percent compared with the same week last year. Total U.S. rail traffic for the week was 531,725 carloads and intermodal units, up 8.3 percent compared with the same week last year.

All 10 of the 10 carload commodity groups tracked on a weekly basis posted increases compared with the same week in 2013, including grain, with 19,706 carloads, up 27.4 percent; forest products, with 11,829 carloads, up 13.6 percent; and motor vehicles and parts, with 16,304 carloads, up 12.2 percent.

For the first 22 weeks of 2014, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 6,270,639 carloads, up 3.1 percent from the same point last year, and 5,565,055 intermodal units, up 5.8 percent from last year. Total U.S. traffic for the first 22 weeks of 2014 was 11,835,694 carloads and intermodal units, up 4.3 percent from last year.

USA coal production is down 2.3% 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 7.6% 9.1% 8.3%
Ignoring coal and grain 8.3%
Year Cumulative to Date 3.1% 5.8% 4.3%


[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart


/images/z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended May 31, 2014:

  • U.S. coal production totaled approximately 19.2 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 2.7% higher than last week's estimate and 2.3% 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 11.1 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 407.8 mmst, a slightly lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2013

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