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posted on 30 October 2015

Rail Week Ending 24 October 2015: A Worse Week Among Bad Weeks

Week 42 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 contracted year-over-year, which accounts for approximately half of movements. and 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 -2.6 % decelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average -1.9 % decelerating 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. 24, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 553,144 carloads and intermodal units, down 5.6 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Oct. 24 were 284,523 carloads, down 7.4 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 268,621 containers and trailers, down 3.7 percent compared to 2014.

Three of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2014. They are: grain, up 13 percent to 25,301 carloads; motor vehicles and parts, up 9.9 percent to 18,984; and miscellaneous carloads, up 2.6 percent to 8,972. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included: petroleum and petroleum products, down 21.7 percent to 13,273 carloads; metallic ores and metals, down 18.5 percent to 21,759 carloads; and coal, down 12.7 percent to 100,829 carloads.

For the first 42 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 11,725,829 carloads, down 4.5 percent from the same point last year; and 11,236,197 intermodal units, up 2.2 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 42 weeks of 2015 was 22,962,026 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 1.3 percent compared to last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 11.7 % 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 -7.4 % -3.7 % -5.6 %
Ignoring coal and grain -6.8 %
Year Cumulative to Date -4.5 % +2.2 % -1.3 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended October 24, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 17.5 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 5.2% higher than last week's estimate and 11.7% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 6.9 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 10.6 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 742.5 mmst, 8.6% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen



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