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posted on 04 December 2015

Rail Week Ending 28 November 2015: Contraction Growing Faster. Rail Traffic in November Down 10.4%.

Week 47 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 contracted year-over-year, which accounts for approximately half of movements and weekly railcar counts continued in contraction. The 52 week rolling average contraction is continuing to grow. Rail counts for the month of Novembers showed a significant 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 -9.7 % decelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average -5.0 % decelerating decelerating
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 November 2015 and the first eleven months of 2015.

Carload traffic in November totaled 1,041,605 carloads, down 10.4 percent or 120,259 carloads from November 2014. U.S. railroads also originated 1,024,162 containers and trailers in November 2015, down 1 percent or 10,828 units from the same month last year. For November 2015, combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations were 2,065,767, down 6 percent or 131,087 carloads and intermodal units from November 2014.

In November 2015, six of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with November 2014. This included: miscellaneous carloads, up 32.9 percent or 5,515 carloads; motor vehicles and parts, up 4.7 percent or 3,142 carloads; and non-metallic minerals, up 6.9 percent or 1,143 carloads. Commodities that saw declines in November 2015 from November 2014 included: coal, down 17.6 percent or 78,798 carloads; petroleum and petroleum products, down 20.1 percent or 12,570 carloads; and metallic ores, down 31.7 percent or 10,056 carloads.

Excluding coal, carloads were down 5.8 percent or 41,461 carloads in November 2015 from November 2014.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first eleven months of 2015 was 13,046,761 carloads, down 5.1 percent or 699,664 carloads, while intermodal containers and trailers were 12,530,739 units, up 1.8 percent or 223,272 containers and trailers when compared to the same period in 2014. For the first eleven months of 2015, total rail traffic volume in the United States was 25,577,500 carloads and intermodal units, down 1.8 percent or 476,392 carloads and intermodal units from the same point last year.

"The decline in rail carload traffic in November 2015 was broad based, reflecting manufacturing slowdowns, energy prices and policy, and the constraint of a strong dollar. Even intermodal was down in November, largely due to reduced international traffic," said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John T. Gray. "Railroads are well positioned to serve their customers safely and reliably, but the economy has to cooperate. We're hopeful that will happen soon."

Week Ending November 28, 2015

Total U.S. weekly rail traffic for the week ending Nov. 28, 2015 was 450,389 carloads and intermodal units, down 8.6 percent compared with the same week last year. For the week there were 230,919 carloads, down 15.1 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 219,470 containers and trailers, down 0.6 percent compared to 2014.

Two of the 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2014. They included: miscellaneous carloads, up 21.4 percent to 6,917 carloads; and motor vehicles and parts, up 3.3 percent to 15,077. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included: metallic ores and metals, down 31.9 percent to 16,806 carloads; coal, down 23 percent to 86,194 carloads; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 17.9 percent to 11,909 carloads.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 21.9 % 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 -15.1 % -0.6 % -8.6 %
Ignoring coal and grain -9.7 %
Year Cumulative to Date -5.1 % +1.8 % -1.8 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png


For the week ended November 28, 2015:

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 15.0 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 7.3% lower than last week's estimate and 21.9% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 5.9 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 9.1 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 823.2 mmst, 9.4% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen

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