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posted on 18 June 2015

Rail Week Ending 13 June 2015: Soft Data Continues But Intermodal At Record Levels

Econintersect: Week 23 of 2015 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) contracted according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. Intermodal traffic expanded year-over-year, which accounts for half of movements - but weekly railcar counts continues in contraction. It should be noted that the level of contraction is the same as the previous week.

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 -3.0% accelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average -1.1% accelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average +2.7% 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 June 13, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 554,461 carloads and intermodal units, down 1.9 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending June 13, 2015 were 271,098 carloads, down 8.1 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 283,363 containers and trailers, up 4.9 percent compared to 2014. This marks the highest week on record for intermodal units.

Four of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2014. They included: miscellaneous carloads, up 10.4 percent to 9,020 carloads; motor vehicles and parts, up 7.8 percent to 18,750; and chemicals, up 1 percent to 30,070 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included: coal, down 18.3 percent to 89,694 carloads; petroleum and petroleum products, down 12.6 percent to 14,130 carloads; and metallic ores and metals, down 7.5 percent to 25,038 carloads.

For the first 23 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 6,384,231 carloads, down 3.4 percent from the same point last year; and 6,052,558 intermodal units, up 2.3 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 23 weeks of 2015 was 12,436,789 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 0.7 percent compared to last year.

North American rail volume for the week ending June 13, 2015 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 361,533 carloads, down 9.7 percent compared with the same week last year, and 357,942 intermodal units, up 5.3 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 719,475 carloads and intermodal units, down 2.8 percent. North American rail volume for the first 23 weeks of 2015 was 16,230,682 carloads and intermodal units, up 0.1 percent compared with 2014.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 17.3% 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 -8.1 % +4.9 % -1.9 %
Ignoring coal and grain -3.4 %
Year Cumulative to Date -3.4 % +2.3 % -0.7 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png


For the week ended June 13, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 15.4 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 1.5% higher than last week's estimate and 17.3% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 6.4 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 9.0 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 409.4 mmst, 8.3% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen

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