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posted on 02 October 2015

Rail Week Ending 26 September 2015: Year-over-Year Trend Degradation Continues

Week 38 of 2015 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) declined according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. Intermodal traffic insignificantly 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 -2.3 % unchanged decelerating
13 week rolling average -1.4 % accelerating unchanged
52 week rolling average +0.8 % 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 Sept. 26, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 566,700 carloads and intermodal units, down 1.8 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Sept. 26 were 285,856 carloads, down 5.4 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 280,844 containers and trailers, up 2.1 percent compared to 2014.

Four of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2014. They include: grain, up 30.1 percent to 22,232 carloads; miscellaneous carloads, up 14 percent to 10,100; and motor vehicles and parts, up 8.7 percent to 18,727. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included: petroleum and petroleum products, down 22.3 percent to 13,014 carloads; coal, down 14.2 percent to 101,561 carloads; and metallic ores and metals, down 10.4 percent to 24,128 carloads.

For the first 38 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 10,590,411 carloads, down 4.4 percent from the same point last year; and 10,135,249 intermodal units, up 2.5 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 38 weeks of 2015 was 20,725,660 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 1.2 percent compared to last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 13.8 % 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 -5.4 % +2.1 % -1.8 %
Ignoring coal and grain -4.5 %
Year Cumulative to Date -4.4 % +2.5 % -1.2 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended September 26, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 17.5 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 1.7% lower than last week's estimate and 13.8% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 7.1 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 10.4 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 673.1 mmst, 8.5% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen



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