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posted on 17 September 2015

Rail Week Ending 12 September 2015: Tremendous Unimprovement After Previous Week's Improvement

Week 36 of 2015 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) collapsed according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. Intermodal traffic significantly declined year-over-year, which accounts for approximately half of movements. and weekly railcar counts continued in contraction. It could be that the data last week was screwed up - and the data this week was an adjustment.

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 -1.1 % decelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average -1.5 % decelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average +1.1 % 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 Sep. 12, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 510,797 carloads and intermodal units, down 11.9 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Sep. 12 were 268,960 carloads, down 10.5 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 241,837 containers and trailers, down 13.3 percent compared to 2014. The week ending Sep. 12, 2015 contained the Labor Day holiday. The week it is being compared to in 2014 did not.

One of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2014. It was grain, up 3.6 percent to 17,897 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included: metallic ores and metals, down 27.5 percent to 20,583 carloads; petroleum and petroleum products, down 15.8 percent to 14,231 carloads; and nonmetallic minerals, down 15.1 percent to 34,734 carloads.

For the first 36 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 10,019,235 carloads, down 4.3 percent from the same point last year; and 9,572,991 intermodal units, up 2.5 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 36 weeks of 2015 was 19,592,226 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 1.1 percent compared to last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 0.1 % 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 -10.5 % -13.3 % -11.9 %
Ignoring coal and grain -11.6 %
Year Cumulative to Date -4.3 % +2.5 % -1.1 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended September 5, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 18.6 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 0.5% lower than last week's estimate and 0.1% 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 11.1 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 620.4 mmst, 8.3% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen



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