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posted on 12 February 2015

Rail Week Ending 07 February 2015: Intermodal Weak Likely Due to West Coast Port Labor Problems

Econintersect: Week 5 of 2015 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) improved marginally according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. Intermodal traffic, which accounts for half of movements, contracted year-over-year. It is assumed that the slowdown caused by contract issues at the West Coast Ports was the cause of the drop in intermodal traffic.

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 3.2% decelerating (normal for this period) decelerating
13 week rolling average 5.1% decelerating (normal for this period) decelerating
52 week rolling average 5.0% unchanged unchanged

A summary of the data from the AAR:

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported U.S. rail traffic for the week ending Feb. 7, 2015.

Total U.S. weekly rail traffic for the week was 511,563 carloads and intermodal units, up 0.8 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Feb. 7, 2015 were 273,648 carloads, up 4.7 percent compared with the same week in 2014 while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 237,915 containers and trailers, down 3.3 percent compared to 2014.

Eight of the 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2014, led by grain, up 15.9 percent to 21,179 carloads; nonmetallic minerals, up 8.7 percent to 30,259 carloads; and forest products, up 7.3 percent to 11,422 carloads. The two commodity groups that posted decreases for the week ending Feb. 7, 2015 were farm products, down 2.9 percent to 16,290 carloads; and motor vehicles and parts, down 0.1 percent to 15,429 carloads.

For the first five weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 1,434,490 carloads, up 5.4 percent from the same point last year, and 1,242,982 intermodal units, which was flat compared to last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first five weeks of 2015 was 2,677,472 carloads and intermodal units, up 2.9 percent from last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 3.1% higher 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 4.7% -3.3% 0.8%
Ignoring coal and grain 3.7%
Year Cumulative to Date 5.4% 0.0% 2.9%

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png


For the week ended February 7, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 18.1 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 10.0% lower than last week's estimate and 3.1% higher than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 7.5 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 10.6 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 103.9 mmst, 3.3% higher than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen

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