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posted on 09 July 2015

Rail Week Ending 04 July 2015: A Partially Positive Week for a Change

Econintersect: Week 26 of 2015 shows same week and same month total rail traffic (from same week and month one year ago) expanded 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 continued 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. The following chart is for railcar counts (not including intermodal).

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 -4.3% decelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average -2.5% decelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average +2.1% 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 July 4, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 506,284 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.7 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending July 4, 2015 were 251,269 carloads, down 7.1 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 255,015 containers and trailers, up 12.3 percent compared to 2014.

Six of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2014. They included: miscellaneous carloads, up 6.2 percent to 8,287 carloads; nonmetallic minerals, up 5.4 percent to 33,876 carloads; and farm products, up 3.7 percent to 15,219 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included: coal, down 18.5 percent to 82,924 carloads; metallic ores and metals, down 10.6 percent to 23,893 carloads; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 8.5 percent to 13,684 carloads.

For the first 26 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 7,181,837 carloads, down 3.9 percent from the same point last year; and 6,860,044 intermodal units, up 2.7 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 26 weeks of 2015 was 14,041,881 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 0.8 percent compared to last year.

North American rail volume for the week ending July 4, 2015 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 339,947 carloads, down 6.6 percent compared with the same week last year, and 325,156 intermodal units, up 10 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 665,103 carloads and intermodal units, up 0.8 percent. North American rail volume for the first 26 weeks of 2015 was 18,332,492 carloads and intermodal units, down 0.1 percent compared with 2014.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 17.8% 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 -7.1 % +12.3 % -1.7 %
Ignoring coal and grain -1.8 %
Year Cumulative to Date -3.9 % +2.7 % -0.8 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png


For the week ended June 27, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 15.5 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 4.7% lower than last week's estimate and 17.8% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 6.5 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 9.1 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 441.2 mmst, 8.8% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen

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