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posted on 13 August 2015

Rail Week Ending 08 August 2015: Continued Decline of One Year Rolling Average

Econintersect: Week 31 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. and 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 -1.3% accelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average -2.3 % accelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average +1.6 % decelerating decelerating

A summary of the data from the AAR:

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 562,884 carloads and intermodal units, down 0.9 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Aug. 8, 2015 were 288,460 carloads, down 4.4 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 274,424 containers and trailers, up 3.1 percent compared to 2014.

Five of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2014. They included: miscellaneous carloads, up 14.2 percent to 9,117 carloads; farm products, up 8.4 percent to 16,854 carloads; and grain, up 1.5 percent to 21,587 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included: petroleum and petroleum products, down 17.7 percent to 13,826 carloads; metallic ores and metals, down 10 percent to 23,387 carloads; and coal, down 7.1 percent to 105,965 carloads.

For the first 31 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 8,595,439 carloads, down 4.2 percent from the same point last year; and 8,211,341 intermodal units, up 2.5 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 31 weeks of 2015 was 16,806,780 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 1 percent compared with this point last year.

North American rail volume for the week ending Aug. 8, 2015 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 377,908 carloads, down 5.5 percent compared with the same week last year, and 346,905 intermodal units, up 3.3 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America, was 724,813 carloads and intermodal units, down 1.5 percent. North American rail volume for the first 31 weeks of 2015 was 21,925,606 carloads and intermodal units, down 0.5 percent compared with 2014.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 11.8% 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 -4.4 % +3.1 % -0.9 %
Ignoring coal and grain -1.8 %
Year Cumulative to Date -4.2 % +2.5 % -1.0 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png


For the week ended August 1, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 17.7 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 0.6% lower than last week's estimate and 11.8% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 7.2 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 10.5 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 528.1 mmst, 8.7% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen

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