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posted on 14 May 2015

Rail Week Ending 09 May 2015: Data Still Not Pretty. Rail Softness Continues.

Econintersect: Week 18 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 goes deeper into 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 -0.5% decelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average -0.4% accelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average +3.6% 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 May 9, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 551,034 carloads and intermodal units, down 2.3 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending May 9, 2015 were 273,433 carloads, down 7.9 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 277,601 containers and trailers, up 3.8 percent compared to 2014.

Four of the 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2014. They include: motor vehicles and parts, up 8.9 percent to 18,997 carloads; petroleum and petroleum products, up 6.1 percent to 15,464 carloads; and miscellaneous carloads, up 3.6 percent to 9,220 carloads. Commodity groups that saw decreases during this one week included: coal, down 16.1 percent to 93,691 carloads; metallic ores and metals, down 12.1 percent to 23,572 carloads; and grain, down 11.2 percent to 17,959 carloads.

For the first 18 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 5,043,559 carloads, down 1.8 percent from the same point last year; and 4,679,513 intermodal units, up 1.7 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 18 weeks of 2015 was 9,723,072 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 0.1 percent compared to last year.

North American rail volume for the week ending May 9, 2015 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 368,931 carloads, down 7.5 percent compared with the same week last year, and 350,845 intermodal units, up 3.2 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 719,776 carloads and intermodal units, down 2.6 percent. North American rail volume for the first 18 weeks of 2015 was 12,681,610 carloads and intermodal units, up 1 percent compared with 2014.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 15.1% 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% +3.8% -2.3%
Ignoring coal and grain -2.7%
Year Cumulative to Date -1.8% +1.7% -0.1%

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png


For the week ended May 9, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 16.0 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 7.7% lower than last week's estimate and 15.1% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 6.7 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 9.4 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 331.8 mmst, 6.0% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen

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