Rail Week Ending 03 January 2015: Increased Rail Traffic for the Week, Month of December, and 2014

January 9th, 2015
in econ_news, syndication

Econintersect: Week 53 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. Our analysis of the AAR data will  light this week as there was no week 53 last year - and we are smiling thinking of how the AAR could analyze a leap week.

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. [note that the following table was not updated from last week].

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 7.3% decelerating (normal for this holiday period) accelerating
13 week rolling average 4.6% decelerating (normal for this holiday period) accelerating
52 week rolling average 4.5% accelerating unchanged

A summary of the data from the AAR:

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported increased freight rail traffic for all of 2014, December and the week. Total combined traffic for 2014* on U.S. railroads was 28,673,776 carloads, containers, and trailers, up 1,233,184 units or 4.5 percent over 2013 and the highest annual total since 2007. U.S rail carloads were 15,176,835 in 2014, up 3.9 percent or 567,554 carloads over 2013 and the highest total carloads since 2008. U.S. rail intermodal volume totaled a record 13,496,941 containers and trailers in 2014, up 5.2 per cent or 665,630 units over the previous record set in 2013.

In 2014, 18 of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked annually by AAR saw increases on U.S. railroads compared with 2013. Categories with gains included: grain, up 125,954 carloads or 13.5 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 122,567 carloads or 11.6 percent; petroleum and petroleum products, up 90,185 carloads or 12.7 percent; and coal, up 55,554 carloads or 1 percent.

"2014 was a challenging year for America's freight railroads as they responded to traffic surges and shifts in traffic patterns," said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics, John T. Gray. "This will be another busy year as the economy continues to grow and the nation's railroads work to be responsive, flexible and efficient for their customers."

In December 2014, U.S. railroads originated 1,444,450 carloads, up 118,427 carloads or 8.9 percent compared with December 2013, the largest year-over-year monthly percent increase for total carloads in four years. U.S. rail intermodal originations totaled 1,188,364 containers and trailers in December 2014, up 42,815 carloads or 3.7 percent over December 2013, continuing a 5-year trend in which year-over-year monthly intermodal volume has risen.

For December 2014, 15 of the 20 carload commodity categories the AAR tracks saw carload gains compared with December 2013, including coal, up 39,452 carloads or 7.5 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 22,865 carloads or 29.2 percent; grain, up 18,636 carloads or 18.8 percent; and petroleum and petroleum products, up 7,395 carloads or 10.3 percent. Commodities that showed carload declines in December 2014 compared with December 2013 included grain mill products, down 1,350 carloads or 2.8 percent.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the week ending Jan. 3, 2015 was 446,201 carloads and intermodal units, up 2.8 percent compared with the same week in 2013. Intermodal volume totaling 185,675 trailers and containers, down 0.7 percent compared with the same week in 2013.

Originating carloads were 260,526, up 5.4 percent. Seven out of 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2013, including: grain, with 22,977 carloads, up 23.4 percent; metallic ores and metals, with 24,396 carloads, up 14.7 percent; and motor vehicles and parts, with 9,196 carloads, up 69 percent. The category showing a decrease in weekly traffic was chemicals, with 28,532 carloads, down 2.5 percent. Coal was flat in percentage terms for the week.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 2.4% higher than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014. [note for coal that the EIA is comparing this to the first week in 2014 - and not the last week of 2013 like the AAR] The middle row in 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 5.4% -0.7% 2.8%
Ignoring coal and grain 6.9%
Year Cumulative to Date 3.9% 5.1% 4.5%

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart

/images/z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended January 3, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 17.6 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 3.7% higher than last week's estimate and 2.2% higher than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 7.2 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 10.4 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 7.6 mmst, 0.2% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

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