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posted on 10 December 2015

Rail Week Ending 05 December 2015: The Good News Is That Is Week Is Not As Bad As Last Week

Week 48 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 squeaked into expansion year-over-year, which accounts for approximately half of movements and weekly railcar counts continued deeply 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 -5.8 % accelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average -5.0 % decelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average -0.8 % accelerating accelerating

A summary of the data from the AAR:

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported U.S. rail traffic for the week ending Dec. 5, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 542,050 carloads and intermodal units, down 6.6 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Dec. 5 were 271,774 carloads, down 12.9 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 270,276 containers and trailers, up 0.8 percent compared to 2014.

Two of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2014. They were miscellaneous carloads, up 15.5 percent to 9,063 carloads; and motor vehicles and parts, up 1.8 percent to 19,025 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included metallic ores and metals, down 24.6 percent to 21,318 carloads; coal, down 21.8 percent to 92,820 carloads; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 14.4 percent to 13,589 carloads.

For the first 48 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 13,318,535 carloads, down 5.3 percent from the same point last year; and 12,801,015 intermodal units, up 1.8 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 48 weeks of 2015 was 26,119,550 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 1.9 percent compared to last year.

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 -12.9 % +0.8 % -6.6 %
Ignoring coal and grain -7.3 %
Year Cumulative to Date -5.3 % +1.8 % -1.9 %

[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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