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posted on 19 March 2015

Rail Week Ending 14 March 2015: Weak Growth Continues

Econintersect: Week 10 of 2015 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) weakly improved according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. Intermodal traffic, which accounts for half of movements, is now strongly growing year-over-year - but railcar counts are in contraction. Rail traffic still appears very soft.

The AAR contibuted to this drop by defining week 1 of 2015 as week 53 of 2014 which put comparable weeks one off the correct week.

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 -2.2% accelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average +3.5% decelerating unchanged
52 week rolling average +4.9% 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 Mar. 14, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 553,031 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.5 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Mar. 14, 2015 were 278,856 carloads, down 3.5 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 274,175 containers and trailers, up 7 percent compared to 2014.

Two of the 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2014. They were: grain, up 7.8 percent to 22,771 carloads; and miscellaneous carloads, up 16.7 percent to7,979 carloads. Commodity groups that saw decreases during this one week included: petroleum and petroleum producers, down 11.1 percent to 12,724 carloads; metallic ores and metals, down 7.8 percent to 20,592 carloads; and nonmetallic minerals, down 6.4 percent to 31,724 carloads.

For the first 10 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 2,797,529 carloads, up 1.2 percent from the same point last year; and 2,462,399 intermodal units, down 1.1 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 10 weeks of 2015 was 5,259,928 carloads and intermodal units, up 0.1 percent compared to last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 6.9% 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 -3.5% +7.0% +1.5%
Ignoring coal and grain -4.0%
Year Cumulative to Date +1.2% -1.1% +0.1%

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended March 14, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 18.5 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 5.9% higher than last week's estimate and 6.9% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 7.7 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 10.8 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 192.7 mmst, 2.3% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen



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