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posted on 23 October 2015

Rail Week Ending 17 October 2015: Contraction Continues

Week 41 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 modestly 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 -2.5 % decelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average -1.7 % accelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average +0.5 % 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 Oct. 17, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 554,696 carloads and intermodal units, down 2.6 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Oct. 17 were 279,547 carloads, down 5.9 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 275,149 containers and trailers, up 1 percent compared to 2014.

Five of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2014. They include: grain, up 16.7 percent to 25,372 carloads; miscellaneous carloads, up 15.1 percent to 9,223; and motor vehicles and parts, up 13.2 percent to 18,894. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included: metallic ores and metals, down 20.9 percent to 21,486 carloads; petroleum and petroleum products, down 14 percent to 13,772 carloads; and coal, down 13.4 percent to 95,822 carloads.

For the first 41 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 11,441,306 carloads, down 4.4 percent from the same point last year; and 10,967,576 intermodal units, up 2.4 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 41 weeks of 2015 was 22,408,882 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 12.2 % 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 -5.9 % +1.0 % -2.6 %
Ignoring coal and grain -4.8 %
Year Cumulative to Date -4.4 % +2.4 % -1.2 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended October 17, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 16.6 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 2.8% lower than last week's estimate and 12.2% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 6.5 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 10.1 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 725.0 mmst, 8.6% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen



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