Rail Week Ending 06 September 2014: Strong But Slowing Growth Cycle Continuing

September 11th, 2014
in econ_news, syndication

Econintersect: Week 36 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 this week continues to demonstrate an improving economy - even though the rate of growth is slowing.

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 which are continuing to show a strong growth cycle albeit the rate of growth is slowing:

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 3.5% decelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average 4.7% decelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average 4.3% accelerating decelerating

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 Sept. 6, 2014 with 286,002 total carloads, up 2.7 percent compared with the same week last year. Total U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 239,142 units, up 4.5 percent compared with the same week last year. Total combined U.S. weekly rail traffic was 525,144 carloads and intermodal units, up 3.5 percent compared with the same week last year.

Nine of 10 of the carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2013, including petroleum and petroleum products with 15,657 carloads, up 31.1 percent; nonmetallic minerals with 37,500 carloads, up 13.1 percent; and metallic ores and metals with 25,541 carloads, up 8.5 percent. The commodity that posted a decrease was coal with 111,406 carloads, down 5.4 percent.

For the first 36 weeks of 2014, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 10,418,394 carloads, up 3.6 percent compared with the same point last year, and 9,243,430 intermodal units, up 5.6 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 36 weeks of 2014 was 19,661,824 carloads and intermodal units, up 4.5 percent from last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 2.7% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2013. The table below removes coal and grain from the changes in the railcar counts as neither of these commodities is economically intuitive.

This Week
Carloads Intermodal Total
This week Year-over-Year 2.7% 4.5% 3.5%
Ignoring coal and grain 9.5%
Year Cumulative to Date 3.6% 5.6% 4.5%


[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart


/images/z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended September 6, 2014:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 19.2 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 0.3% lower than last week's estimate and 2.7% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2013
  • Coal production east of the Mississippi River totaled 7.8 mmst
  • Coal production west of the Mississippi River totaled 11.4 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 673.3 mmst, 1.1% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2013
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