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posted on 30 April 2015

Rail Week Ending 25 April 2015: Another Bad Data Week

Econintersect: Week 16 of 2015 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) declined according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. Intermodal traffic improved, which accounts for half of movements - but weekly railcar counts remain in contraction.

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 -0.6% unchanged decelerating
13 week rolling average +0.0% unchanged accelerating
52 week rolling average +4.0% 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 25, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 557,306 carloads and intermodal units, down 1.6 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending April 25, 2015 were 278,294 carloads, down 7.9 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 279,012 containers and trailers, up 5.6 percent compared to 2014.

One of the 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2014. It was: motor vehicles and parts, up 1 percent to 18,894 carloads. Commodity groups that saw decreases during this one week included: coal, down 13.3 percent to 98,405 carloads; grain, down 8.6 percent to 19,909 carloads; and metallic ores and metals, down 7.7 percent to 23,473 carloads.

For the first 16 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 4,487,035 carloads, down 1.2 percent from the same point last year; and 4,119,216 intermodal units, up 1.3 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 16 weeks of 2015 was 8,606,251 carloads and intermodal units, which remains flat compared to last year.

North American rail volume for the week ending April 25, 2015 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 376,406 carloads, down 6.7 percent compared with the same week last year, and 351,858 intermodal units, up 5.2 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 728,264 carloads and intermodal units, down 1.3 percent. North American rail volume for the first 16 weeks of 2015 was 11,227,407 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.3 percent compared with 2014.

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 -7.9% +5.6% -1.6%
Ignoring coal and grain -4.4%
Year Cumulative to Date -1.2% +1.3% +0.0%

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png


For the week ended April 25, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 16.8 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 1.0% lower than last week's estimate and 12.1% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 7.0 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 9.8 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 298.4 mmst, 5.2% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen

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