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posted on 28 August 2015

Rail Week Ending 22 August 2015: Some Improvement But Continued Deterioration Of Year-over-Year Rolling Averages

Econintersect: Week 33 of 2015 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) marginally expanded 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 (carloads and intermodal combined).

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 % accelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average -2.0 % accelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average +1.4 % 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 Aug. 22, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 567,943 carloads and intermodal units, up 0.4 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Aug. 22, 2015 were 288,971 carloads, down 3.7 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 278,972 containers and trailers, up 5 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 16.4 percent to 10,204 carloads; farm products, up 7.1 percent to 16,670 carloads and motor vehicles and parts, up 4.8 percent to 18,077 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included: metallic ores and metals, down 15.1 percent to 22,970 carloads; petroleum and petroleum products, down 12.1 percent to 14,420 carloads; and coal, down 6.4 percent to 107,273 carloads.

For the first 33 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 9,172,144 carloads, down 4.3 percent from the same point last year; and 8,766,756 intermodal units, up 2.6 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 33 weeks of 2015 was 17,938,900 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 1 percent compared to last year.

North American rail volume for the week ending Aug. 22, 2015 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 380,676 carloads, down 3.7 percent compared with the same week last year, and 354,498 intermodal units, up 4.7 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 735,174 carloads and intermodal units, up 0.2 percent. North American rail volume for the first 33 weeks of 2015 was 23,391,005 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 6.6 % 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 -3.7 % +5.0 % +0.4 %
Ignoring coal and grain -2.1 %
Year Cumulative to Date -4.3 % +2.6 % -1.0 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended August 22, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 18.5 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 0.9% higher than last week's estimate and 6.6% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 7.5 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 11.0 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 583.1 mmst, 8.6% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen



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