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posted on 30 July 2015

Rail Week Ending 25 July 2015: Rail Data Still Soft But Marginally Better Than Previous Week

Econintersect: Week 29 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 over three months. 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 -1.2 % accelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average -2.1 % accelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average +1.8 % 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 25, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 557,612 carloads and intermodal units, down 2.5 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending July 25, 2015 were 286,660 carloads, down 6.7 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 270,952 containers and trailers, up 2.3 percent compared to 2014.

One of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2014. It was grain, up 10.9 percent to 22,091 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included: metallic ores and metals, down 14.9 percent to 24,609 carloads; miscellaneous carloads, down 13.9 percent to 8,512 carloads and coal, down 10.9 percent to 103,588 carloads.

For the first 29 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 8,017,322 carloads, down 4.2 percent from the same point last year; and 7,667,449 intermodal units, up 2.6 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 29 weeks of 2015 was 15,684,771 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 1 percent compared to last year.

North American rail volume for the week ending July 25, 2015 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 382,581 carloads, down 5.7 percent compared with the same week last year, and 344,413 intermodal units, up 2.2 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 726,994 carloads and intermodal units, down 2.1 percent. North American rail volume for the first 29 weeks of 2015 was 20,476,086 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 11.5% 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 -6.7 % +2.3 % -2.5 %
Ignoring coal and grain -10.5 %
Year Cumulative to Date -4.2 % +2.6 % -1.0 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended July 18, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 17.2 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 4.9% higher than last week's estimate and 11.5% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 7.0 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 10.2 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 492.6 mmst, 8.5% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen



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