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posted on 23 April 2015

Rail Week Ending 18 April 2015: Reported Improvement In Rail Data?

Econintersect: Week 15 of 2015 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) improved according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. This improvement is totally due to Intermodal traffic, which accounts for half of movements - but weekly railcar counts remain in contraction. Rail traffic remains surprisingly weak with the rolling averages contracting..

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% decelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average -0.2% accelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average +4.1% decelerating 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 18, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 556,432 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.2 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending April 18, 2015 were 276,416 carloads, down 4.9 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 280,016 containers and trailers, up 8.1 percent compared to 2014. This is the second highest week on record for intermodal units and the first time container and trailer traffic exceeded carloads for a one-week period.

Six of the 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2014. They were: motor vehicles and parts, up 7.2 percent to 18,008 carloads; miscellaneous carloads, up 6.3 percent to 8,019 carloads; and chemicals, up 2.9 percent to 31,296 carloads. Commodity groups that saw decreases during this one week included: grain, down 15.8 percent to 18,166 carloads; coal, down 12.6 percent to 99,482 carloads; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 1.3 percent to 15,068 carloads.

For the first 15 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 4,208,741 carloads, down 0.7 percent from the same point last year; and 3,840,204 intermodal units, up 1 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 15 weeks of 2015 was 8,048,945 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 11.6% 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 -4.9% +8.1% +1.2%
Ignoring coal and grain -1.2%
Year Cumulative to Date -0.7% +1.0% +0.1%

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png


For the week ended April 18, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 17.0 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 5.7% lower than last week's estimate and 11.6% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 7.1 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 9.9 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 281.5 mmst, 4.8% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen

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