October 6th, 2014
Econintersect: Week 39 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 - but the rate of growth compared to the rolling averages one year ago decelerated.
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
13 week rolling average
52 week rolling average
A summary of the data from the AAR:
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported increased U.S. rail traffic for September 2014, with both carload and intermodal volume increasing compared with September 2013. U.S. Class I railroads originated 1,190,431 carloads in September 2014, up 2.7 percent, or 30,837 carloads, over September 2013. September marked the seventh straight month of year-over-year carload increases, something that hasn’t happened since early 2011. Intermodal traffic in September totaled 1,073,042 containers and trailers, up 4.5 percent, or 45,803 units, over September 2013. The second, third, and fourth weeks of September 2014 were the three highest-volume intermodal weeks in history for U.S. railroads. Fifteen of the 20 commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw year-over-year carload increases in September. Commodities with carload increases in September 2014 over September 2013 were led by petroleum and petroleum products, up 14,375 carloads, or 28.1 percent. Carloads of crushed stone, gravel, and sand were up 11,423, or 12.6 percent, and carloads of primary metal products were up 2,931, or 7 percent. Carloads of grain rose 2,751, or 4.1 percent. Year- over-year U.S. grain carloads have risen for 12 months in a row.
Commodities with carload declines in September 2014 from September 2013 were led by coal, down 8,109 carloads, or 1.7 percent. Excluding coal, U.S. rail carloads were up 38,946 carloads, or 5.6 percent, in September 2014 over September 2013. Excluding coal and grain, U.S. rail carloads were up 36,195, or 5.8 percent, in September 2014.
“As has generally been the case in recent months, U.S. freight rail traffic in September was consistent with an economy that’s growing at a steady pace. We think that will probably continue for the foreseeable future,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray.
AAR today also reported increased rail traffic for the week ending Sept. 27, 2014. U.S. railroads originated 301,863 carloads last week, up 1.6 percent compared with the same week last year, while intermodal volume for the week totaled 275,071 units, up 2 percent compared with the same week last year. Total U.S. rail traffic for the week was 576,934 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.8 percent compared with the same week last year.
Five of the 10 carload commodity groups tracked on a weekly basis posted increases compared with the same week in 2013, led by petroleum and petroleum products, with 16,759 carloads, up 24.9 percent. Commodities that posted a decrease were led by motor vehicles and parts, with 17,235, down 8 percent.
For the first 39 weeks of 2014, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 11,322,823 carloads, up 3.5 percent from the same point last year, and 10,077,330 intermodal units, up 5.5 percent from last year. Total U.S. traffic for the first 39 weeks of 2014 was 21,400,153 carloads and intermodal units, up 4.4 percent from last year.
Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 4.4% higher 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 Year-over-Year
Ignoring coal and grain
Year Cumulative to Date
[click on graph below to enlarge]
Current Rail Chart
For the week ended September 27, 2014: