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posted on 16 April 2015

Rail Week Ending 11 April 2015: Continued Weakness In Rail Data

Econintersect: Week 14 of 2015 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) again declined according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. Intermodal traffic, which accounts for half of movements, is growing year-over-year - but weekly railcar counts remain in contraction. Rail traffic remains surprisingly weak.

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 +0.5% unchanged decelerating
13 week rolling average +0.7% accelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average +4.3% 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 April 11, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 557,812 carloads and intermodal units, down 0.3 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending April 11, 2015 were 287,349 carloads, down 2.6 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 270,463 containers and trailers, up 2.3 percent compared to 2014.

Six of the 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2014. They were: grain, up 13.9 percent to 23,741 carloads; petroleum and petroleum products, up 5.5 percent to 15,317 carloads; and chemicals, up 2 percent to 31,342 carloads. Commodity groups that saw decreases during this one week included: coal, down 8.2 percent to 105,691 carloads; nonmetallic minerals, down 3.9 percent to 35,794 carloads; and motor vehicles and parts, down 3.6 percent to 17,814 carloads.

For the first 14 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 3,932,325 carloads, down 0.4 percent from the same point last year; and 3,560,188 intermodal units, up 0.5 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 14 weeks of 2015 was 7,492,513 carloads and intermodal units, which was flat compared to last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 7.6% 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 -2.6% +2.3% -0.3%
Ignoring coal and grain -1.7%
Year Cumulative to Date -0.4% +0.5% +0.0%

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png


For the week ended April 11, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 18.0 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 3.5% higher than last week's estimate and 7.6% lower 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 10.5 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 264.6 mmst, 4.3% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen

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