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posted on 23 July 2015

Rail Week Ending 18 July 2015: Rail Data Continues to be Soft

Econintersect: Week 28 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 approximately 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 are in contraction for the short term trends. 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 -1.5% unchanged accelerating
13 week rolling average -1.9% decelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average +2.0% 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 July 18, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 551,181 carloads and intermodal units, down 2.8 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending July 18, 2015 were 277,331 carloads, down 7.3 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 273,850 containers and trailers, up 2.3 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 6.3 percent to 9,337 carloads; farm products, up 1.4 percent to 16,052 carloads; and chemicals, up 1.1 percent to 30,057 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included: petroleum and petroleum products, down 20.2 percent to 13,335 carloads; metallic ores and metals, down 11.7 percent to 24,698 carloads; and coal, down 11.6 percent to 99,975 carloads.

For the first 28 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 7,730,662 carloads, down 4.1 percent from the same point last year; and 7,396,497 intermodal units, up 2.6 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 28 weeks of 2015 was 15,127,159 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 0.9 percent compared to last year.

North American rail volume for the week ending July 18, 2015 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 370,609 carloads, down 7 percent compared with the same week last year, and 347,284 intermodal units, up 2.5 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 717,893 carloads and intermodal units, down 2.6 percent. North American rail volume for the first 28 weeks of 2015 was 19,749,092 carloads and intermodal units, down 0.3 percent compared with 2014.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 10.4% 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 -7.3 % +2.3 % -2.8 %
Ignoring coal and grain -5.3 %
Year Cumulative to Date -4.1 % +2.6 % -0.9 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png


For the week ended July 11, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 16.4 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 15.9% higher than last week's estimate and 10.4% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 6.6 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 9.8 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 475.4 mmst, 8.4% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen

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