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posted on 28 May 2015

Rail Week Ending 23 May 2015: Contraction Worsens On Rolling Averages

Econintersect: Week 20 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 year-over-year, which accounts for half of movements - but weekly railcar counts continues deep 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 -1.8% decelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average -0.5% accelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average +3.3% 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 23, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 554,477 carloads and intermodal units, down 2.7 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending May 23, 2015 were 273,387 carloads, down 9.1 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 281,090 containers and trailers, up 4.3 percent compared to 2014.

Three of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2014. They were: miscellaneous products, up 10.4 percent to 8,495 carloads; motor vehicles and parts, up 3.3 percent to 18,674 carloads; and petroleum and petroleum products, up 1.5 percent to 14,783 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included: metallic ores and metals, down 17.3 percent to 24,199; coal, down 16.5 percent to 93,796 carloads; and nonmetallic minerals, down 8.8 percent to 35,622 carloads.

For the first 19 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 5,586,038 carloads, down 2.6 percent from the same point last year; and 5,240,710 intermodal units, up 2 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 20 weeks of 2015 was 10,826,748 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 0.4 percent compared to last year.

North American rail volume for the week ending May 23, 2015 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 366,991 carloads, down 8.9 percent compared with the same week last year, and 353,380 intermodal units, up 4.1 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America, was 720,371 carloads and intermodal units, down 3 percent. North American rail volume for the first 20 weeks of 2015 was 14,122,301 carloads and intermodal units, up 0.6 percent compared with 2014.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 15.7% 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 -9.1 % +4.3 % -2.7 %
Ignoring coal and grain -5.1 %
Year Cumulative to Date -2.6 % +2.0 % -0.4 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png


For the week ended May 23, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 16.1 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 0.2% higher than last week's estimate and 15.7% 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 363.8 mmst, 6.8% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen

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