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posted on 25 June 2015

Rail Week Ending 20 June 2015: Just Another Bad Week for Rail

Econintersect: Week 24 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 worsened from 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 -3.1% decelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average -1.6% decelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average +2.6% 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 June 20, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 550,839 carloads and intermodal units, down 2.4 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending June 20, 2015 were 273,932 carloads, down 6.1 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 276,907 containers and trailers, up 1.6 percent compared to 2014.

Four of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2014. They included: miscellaneous carloads, up 15.7 percent to 8,946 carloads; grain, up 3.4 percent to 18,271; and motor vehicles and parts, up 1.9 percent to 18,682 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included: coal, down 13.7 percent to 95,095 carloads; metallic ores and metals, down 8.1 percent to 25,181 carloads; and forest products, down 7.3 percent to 11,119 carloads.

For the first 24 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 6,658,163, down 3.6 percent from the same point last year; and 6,329,465 intermodal units, up 2.2 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 24 weeks of 2015 was 12,987,628 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 0.8 percent compared to last year.

North American rail volume for the week ending June 20, 2015 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 368,270 carloads, down 6.9 percent compared with the same week last year, and 351,477 intermodal units, up 2.3 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America, was 719,747 carloads and intermodal units, down 2.6 percent. North American rail volume for the first 24 weeks of 2015 was 16,950,429 carloads and intermodal units, which remains flat 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 -6.1 % +1.6 % -2.4 %
Ignoring coal and grain -2.6 %
Year Cumulative to Date -3.6 % +2.2 % -0.8 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

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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