Rail Week Ending 29 November 2014: Stronger End to the Relatively Soft November Data

December 4th, 2014
in econ_news, syndication

Econintersect: Week 48 of 2014 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) improved according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. The rate of growth improved in all of the rolling averages reported below, but the traffic always softens during this season - although the softness is not correlating to previous year's.

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 generally are in a general growth cycle.

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 2.0% decelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average 3.5% decelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average 4.2% accelerating accelerating

A summary of the data from the AAR:

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported increased U.S. rail traffic for November 2014, with both carload and intermodal volume increasing compared with November 2013. U.S. Class I railroads originated 1,161,820 carloads in November 2014, up 1.4 percent, or 16,396 carloads, over November 2013.

November was the ninth straight month of year-over-year increases in carloads. Intermodal traffic in November totaled 1,035,054 containers and trailers, up 2.7 percent, or 27,463 units, over November 2013. The weekly average volume was 258,764 for the month, the highest for any November in history.

For the first 11 months of 2014, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 13,992,560 carloads, up 3.4 percent from the same point last year, and 12,494,133 intermodal units, up 5.2 percent from last year. Total U.S. traffic for the first 11 months of 2014 was 26,486,693 carloads and intermodal units, up 4.3 percent from last year.

Eleven of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw year-over-year increases in November. Commodities with the biggest carload increases were crushed stone, sand, and gravel, up 12,960 carloads, or 16.8 percent; metallic ores, up 5,241 carloads, or 19.8 percent; petroleum and petroleum products, up 4,432 carloads, or 7.6 percent; and coke up 730 carloads, or 5 percent.

Coal was up 12 carloads for November, or flat in percentage terms. Excluding coal, U.S. rail carloads were up 16,384 carloads, or 2.4 percent, in November 2014 over November 2013. Excluding coal and grain, U.S. rail carloads were up 19,575, or 3.2 percent, in November 2014. In November 2014, combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations were 2,196,874 units, up 43,859 units, or 2 percent, over November 2013. The weekly average total volume of 549,219 units in November 2014 was the highest weekly average total for November since 2007.

"It's not always easy to tell from available indicators how the economy is performing and that is true for rail traffic in November when some traffic categories showed solid growth, others not so much," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. "A healthy and efficient freight rail network is vital to delivering America's changing economy. Today, railroads are moving more traffic than at any time since 2007."

AAR also reported Class I railroads originated 132,257 carloads of crude oil in the third quarter of 2014, up 12,623 carloads, or 10.6 percent, over the second quarter of 2014. In the first nine months of 2014, crude oil accounted for 1.6 percent of the total Class I railroad carloads.

AAR today reported increased rail traffic for the week ending Nov. 29, 2014. U.S. railroads originated 271,659 carloads last week, up 6.2 percent compared with the same week last year, while intermodal volume for the week totaled 220,873 units, up 6.2 percent compared with the same week last year and the highest ever. Total U.S. rail traffic for the week was 492,532 carloads and intermodal units, up 6.2 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, including nonmetallic minerals, with 27,079 carloads, up 23.1 percent; metallic ores and metals, with 24,702 carloads, up 16.3 percent; and forest products with 10,434 carloads, up 8 percent. Commodities that posted a decrease were led by grain, with 20,221 carloads, down 5.7 percent.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 3.5% higher than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2013. The middle line on 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 6.2% 6.2% 6.2%
Ignoring coal and grain 9.2%
Year Cumulative to Date 3.4% 5.2% 4.3%

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart

/images/z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended November 29, 2014:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 19.0 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 1.9% higher than last week's estimate and 3.5% higher than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2013
  • Coal production east of the Mississippi River totaled 7.4 mmst
  • Coal production west of the Mississippi River totaled 11.6 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 905.2 mmst, 0.3% higher than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2013

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