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posted on 19 February 2015

Rail Week Ending 14 February 2015: Intermodal Continues to Be Soft

Econintersect: Week 6 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 1.2% accelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average 5.3% decelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average 5.0% accelerating 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. 14, 2015.

Total U.S. weekly rail traffic for the week was 525,224 carloads and intermodal units, up 3.5 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Feb. 14, 2015 were 288,959 carloads, up 6.7 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 236,265 containers and trailers, down 0.1 percent compared to 2014.

All 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2014, led by grain, up 21.5 percent to 23,262 carloads; nonmetallic minerals, up 17.9 percent to 31,428 carloads; and chemicals, up 9.3 percent to 31,878 carloads.

For the first six weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 1,723,449 carloads, up 5.7 percent from the same point last year, and 1,479,247 intermodal units, which was flat compared to last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first six weeks of 2015 was 3,202,696 carloads and intermodal units, up 3.0 percent from last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 0.5% 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 6.7% -0.1% 3.5%
Ignoring coal and grain 8.7%
Year Cumulative to Date 5.7% 0.0% 3.0%

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended February 14, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 19.2 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 6.1% higher than last week's estimate and 0.5% higher than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 8.0 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 11.2 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 123.1 mmst, 3.0% higher than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen



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