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posted on 29 January 2015

Rail Week Ending 24 January 2015: Third Week of Year Shows Rail Traffic Improved

Econintersect: Week 2 of 2015 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) improved according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. Because the AAR reported the first week of 2015 as the last week of 2014, the data does not correlate properly when analyzing the four week averages - but still the data currently has a slight deceleration in the growth trend.

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 8.7% decelerating (normal for this period) decelerating
13 week rolling average 5.6% decelerating (normal for this period) decelerating
52 week rolling average 5.0% decelerating (normal for this period) decelerating

A summary of the data from the AAR:

Total U.S. weekly rail traffic for the week was 548,055 carloads and intermodal units, up 4.1 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Jan. 24, 2015 were 294,738 carloads, up 5 percent compared with the same week in 2014 while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 253,317 containers and trailers, up 3 percent compared to 2014.

Nine of the 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2014, led by Coal with 115,369 carloads, up 3.8 percent; and Nonmetallic Minerals with 34,246 carloads, up 22.2 percent. The lone commodity group that posted a decrease compared with the same week in 2014 was the "Other" category of miscellaneous carloads, down slightly at 0.4 percent.

For the first three weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 862,274 carloads, up 4.1 percent from the same point last year, and 755,157 intermodal units, up 0.8 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first three weeks of 2015 was 1,617,431 carloads and intermodal units, up 2.5 percent from last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 2.6% 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 5.0% 3.0% 4.1%
Ignoring coal and grain 6.9%
Year Cumulative to Date 4.1% 0.8% 2.5%

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png


For the week ended January 24, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 19.9 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 2.7% higher than last week's estimate and 2.6% higher than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 8.3 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 11.6 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 65.7 mmst, 2.0% higher than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen

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