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posted on 25 December 2015

Rail Week Ending 19 December 2015: Rail Sliding Deeper Into Recession

Week 50 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 remains in contraction 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 -7.6 % decelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average -5.2 % decelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average -1.4 % 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 Dec. 19, 2015.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 525,555 carloads and intermodal units, down 9.5 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Dec. 19 were 262,070 carloads, down 14.9 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 263,485 containers and trailers, down 3.5 percent compared to 2014.

Four of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2014. They included miscellaneous carloads, up 38.3 percent to 10,718 carloads; motor vehicles and parts, up 12.9 percent to 19,773 carloads; and chemicals, up 6.1 percent to 31,187 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2014 included coal, down 29.9 percent to 85,021 carloads; metallic ores and metals, down 25.3 percent to 20,647 carloads; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 20.7 percent to 13,137 carloads.

For the first 50 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 13,851,558 carloads, down 5.6 percent from the same point last year; and 13,338,522 intermodal units, up 1.6 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 50 weeks of 2015 was 27,190,080 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 2.2 percent compared to last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 28.8 % 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 -14.9 % -3.5 % -9.5 %
Ignoring coal and grain -6.9 %
Year Cumulative to Date -5.6 % +1.6 % -2.2 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

From EIA.gov:

For the week ended December 19, 2015

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 14.7 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 8.5% lower than last week's estimate and 28.8% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2014
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 5.8 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 8.9 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 870.2 mmst, 10.3% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2014

Steven Hansen



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