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posted on 09 October 2015

Rail Week Ending 03 October 2015: September Monthly Rail Movements Contract 2.0%

Week 39 of 2015 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) and monthly total rail traffic (from same month one year ago) declined according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. Intermodal traffic moderately 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 -2.0 % accelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average -0.7 % accelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average +0.8 % decelerating decelerating

A summary of the data from the AAR:

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported weekly U.S. rail traffic, as well as volumes for September 2015 and the first nine months of 2015.

Carload traffic in September totaled 1,417,750 carloads, down 4.9 percent or 72,597 carloads from September 2014. U.S. railroads also originated 1,365,980 containers and trailers in September 2015, up 1.2 percent or 16,272 units from the same month last year. For September 2015, combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations were 2,783,730, down 2 percent or 56,325 carloads and intermodal units from September 2014.

In September 2015, six of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with September 2014. This included: grain, up 14.4 percent or 13,447 carloads; miscellaneous carloads, up 33.1 percent or 8,057 carloads; and motor vehicles and parts, up 4.9 percent or 4,239 carloads. Commodities that saw declines in September 2015 from September 2014 included: coal, down 8.2 percent or 46,085 carloads; petroleum and petroleum products, down 15.6 percent or 12,692 carloads; and primary metal products, down 18.9 percent or 10,617 carloads.

Excluding coal, carloads were down 2.9 percent or 26,512 carloads in September 2015 from September 2014.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first nine months of 2015 was 10,880,686 carloads, down 4.4 percent or 495,827 carloads, while intermodal containers and trailers were 10,417,267 units, up 2.5 percent or 249,869 containers and trailers when compared to the same period in 2014. For the first nine months of 2015, total rail traffic volume in the United States was 21,297,953 carloads and intermodal units, down 1.1 percent or 245,958 carloads and intermodal units from the same point last year.

"Once again, U.S. rail traffic in September was down mainly because of declines in carloads related to energy and steel," said AAR Senior Vice President Policy and Economics John T. Gray. "Intermodal continues to do well while results vary for other commodity categories. As we head into the fall shipping season, railroads are confident they will be able to handle reliably and safely the traffic their customers send their way. Now, we just need a bit more cooperation from the economy."

Week Ending October 3, 2015

Total U.S. weekly rail traffic for the week ending Oct. 3, 2015 was 572,293 carloads and intermodal units, down 0.7 percent compared with the same week last year. For the week there were 290,275 carloads, down 3.2 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 282,018 containers and trailers, up 1.9 percent compared to 2014.

Four of the 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2014. They included: miscellaneous carloads, up 52.4 percent to 12,839 carloads; grain, up 10.5 percent to 25,029; and farm products, up 3 percent to 16,925. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included: metallic ores and metals, down 22.1 percent to 21,708 carloads; petroleum and petroleum products, down 17.1 percent to 13,298 carloads; and nonmetallic minerals, down 6.4 percent to 37,349 carloads.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 4.3 % 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 -3.2 % +1.9 % -0.7 %
Ignoring coal and grain -4.1 %
Year Cumulative to Date -4.4 % +2.5 % -1.1 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png


For the week ended October 3, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 17.7 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 1.2% higher than last week's estimate and 4.3% 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 10.7 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 691.1 mmst, 8.4% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen

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