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posted on 06 November 2015

Rail Week Ending 31 October 2015: Monthly Data Now Contracting 4.3% Year-over-Year

Week 43 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. October 2015 is down 4.3% over October 2014.

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 -4.0 % decelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average -2.2 % decelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average +0.1 % 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 October 2015 and the first ten months of 2015.

Carload traffic in October totaled 1,124,470 carloads, down 6.9 percent or 83,578 carloads from October 2014. U.S. railroads also originated 1,089,310 containers and trailers in October 2015, down 1.4 percent or 15,769 units from the same month last year. For October 2015, combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations were 2,213,780, down 4.3 percent or 99,347 carloads and intermodal units from October 2014.

In October 2015, five of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with October 2014. This included: grain, up 12.9 percent or 11,366 carloads; miscellaneous carloads, up 27.3 percent or 5,293 carloads; and motor vehicles and parts, up 6.7 percent or 4,654 carloads. Commodities that saw declines in October 2015 from October 2014 included: coal, down 13.3 percent or 59,791 carloads; petroleum and petroleum products, down 18.6 percent or 12,209 carloads; and metallic ores, down 27.9 percent or 9,029 carloads.

Excluding coal, carloads were down 3.1 percent or 23,787 carloads in October 2015 from October 2014.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first ten months of 2015 was 12,005,156 carloads, down 4.6 percent or 579,405 carloads, while intermodal containers and trailers were 11,506,577 units, up 2.1 percent or 234,100 containers and trailers when compared to the same period in 2014. For the first ten months of 2015, total rail traffic volume in the United States was 23,511,733 carloads and intermodal units, down 1.4 percent or 345,305 carloads and intermodal units from the same point last year.

"The decline in rail traffic in October is consistent with the view that a divide has opened up between the service sector, which appears to be fairly robust in many respects, and manufacturing, which appears to be facing increasingly strong headwinds, including international turmoil and slowdowns in the energy sector," said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray.

Week Ending October 31, 2015

Total U.S. weekly rail traffic for the week ending Oct. 31, 2015 was 549,707 carloads and intermodal units, down 6 percent compared with the same week last year. For the week there were 279,327 carloads, down 8.5 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 270,380 containers and trailers, down 3.4 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 15.7 percent to 9,860 carloads; chemicals, up 3.2 percent to 30,518; and motor vehicles and parts, up 2.2 percent to 18,293. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included: petroleum and petroleum products, down 21.7 percent to 12,871 carloads; metallic ores and metals, down 19 percent to 22,871 carloads; and coal, down 14.4 percent to 95,894 carloads.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 13.5 % 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 31, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 16.6 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 4.9% lower than last week's estimate and 13.5% 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 759.1 mmst, 8.8% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen



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