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posted on 26 March 2015

Rail Week Ending 21 March 2015: Continued Weak Rail Growth

Econintersect: Week 11 of 2015 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) again 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 remain in contraction. Rail traffic still appears 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 weak 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 +0.2% accelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average +3.1% decelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average +4.8% accelerating decelerating

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. 21, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 562,472 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.9 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Mar. 21, 2015 were 284,618 carloads, down 2.4 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 277,854 containers and trailers, up 6.7 percent compared to 2014.

Three of the 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2014. They were: grain, up 21.9 percent to 24,087 carloads; motor vehicles and parts, up 3.1 percent to 18,765 carloads; and nonmetallic minerals, up 1.4 percent to 34,230 carloads. Commodity groups that saw decreases during this one week included: metallic ores and metals, down 11 percent to 21,049 carloads; coal, down 6.7 percent to 105,987 carloads; and forest products, down 5.7 percent to 10,628 carloads.

For the first 11 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 3,082,147 carloads, up 0.9 percent from the same point last year; and 2,740,253 intermodal units, down 0.4 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 11 weeks of 2015 was 5,822,400 carloads and intermodal units, up 0.3 percent compared to last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 7.9% 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 -2.4% +6.7% +1.9%
Ignoring coal and grain -3.1%
Year Cumulative to Date +0.9% -0.4% +0.3%

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png


For the week ended March 21, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 18.2 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 1.7% lower than last week's estimate and 7.9% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 7.6 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 10.6 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 210.9 mmst, 2.8% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen

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