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posted on 10 March 2016

Rail Week Ending 06 March 2016: Worse Than Last Week

Week 9 of 2016 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 continued to improve year-over-year, which accounts for approximately half of movements but the weekly railcar counts remained in contraction. Relatively speaking, this week was worse than last week, and the improvement seen last week is fading.

The deceleration in the rail rolling averages began one year ago, and now rail movements are being compared against weaker 2015 data. There were port labor issues one year ago which affected intermodal movements.

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 +0.2 % accelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average -7.1 % decelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average -3.3 % decelerating unchanged

A summary of the data from the AAR:

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported U.S. rail traffic for the week ending Mar. 5, 2016.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 512,202 carloads and intermodal units, down 1.9 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Mar. 5 were 247,016 carloads, down 8 percent compared with the same week in 2015, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 265,186 containers and trailers, up 4.5 percent compared to 2015.

Six of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2015. They included miscellaneous carloads, up 38.8 percent to 9,917 carloads; nonmetallic minerals, up 12.3 percent to 33,197 carloads; and motor vehicles and parts, up 11.9 percent to 18,892 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2015 included coal, down 29.6 percent to 71,669 carloads; petroleum and petroleum products, down 24.1 percent to 10,769 carloads; and farm products excluding grain, and food, down 4 percent to 16,799 carloads.

For the first 9 weeks of 2016, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 2,194,100 carloads, down 12.9 percent from the same point last year; and 2,353,933 intermodal units, up 7.6 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 9 weeks of 2016 was 4,548,033 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 3.4 percent compared to last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 25.5 % lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2015. 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 -8.0 % +4.5 % -1.9 %
Ignoring coal and grain -0.1 %
Year Cumulative to Date -12.9 % +7.6 % -3.4 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

For the week ended February 27, 2016

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 13.1 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 2.7% lower than last week's estimate and 25% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2015
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 5.1 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 7.9 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 109.3 mmst, 30.2% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2015

Coal production from EIA.gov

Steven Hansen



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