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posted on 22 January 2015

Rail Week Ending 17 January 2015: Second Week of Year Shows Rail Traffic Slightly Declined

Econintersect: Week 2 of 2015 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) slightly declined according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. This was a good start to the new year.

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 11.1% decelerating (normal for this period) accelerating
13 week rolling average 6.0% decelerating (normal for this period) accelerating
52 week rolling average 5.1% accelerating accelerating

A summary of the data from the AAR:

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported U.S. rail traffic for the week ending Jan. 17, 2015. Total cumulative U.S. weekly rail traffic for the week was 551,856 carloads and intermodal units, a slight decline of 1 percent compared with the same week last year. Total carloads for the week ending Jan. 17, 2015 were 290,963 up 0.3 percent compared with the same week in 2014 while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 260,893 containers and trailers, down 2.4 percent compared to week two of 2014. 

Five of the 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2014, led by Grain with 25,062 carloads, up 18.2 percent; and Chemicals with 30,947 carloads, up 4.6 percent. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014, Nonmetallic Minerals at 31,124 carloads, down 4.4 percent; and Metallic Ores and Metals with 24,656 carloads, down 3.3 percent.

For the first two weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 567,536 carloads, up 3.7 percent from the same point last year, and 501,840 intermodal units, down 0.3 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first two weeks of 2015 was 1,069,376 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.8 percent from last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 1.1% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014.  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 0.3% -2.4% -1.0%
Ignoring coal and grain -1.9%    
Year Cumulative to Date 3.7% -0.3% 1.8%

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png


For the week ended January 17, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 19.4 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 2.5% higher than last week's estimate and 1.1% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 8.1 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 11.3 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 45.8 mmst, 1.8% higher than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen

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