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posted on 20 May 2016

Rail Week Ending 14 May 2016: Rail Again Moves Deeper Into Contraction

Week 19 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. Rolling averages continue moving deeper into contraction.

The deceleration in the rail rolling averages began one year ago, and now rail movements are being compared against weaker 2015 data - and it continues to decline. We do not believe the data is affected this week by the labor issues in the ports one year ago.

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 -10.7 % decelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average -9.1 % decelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average -5.7 % 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 May 14, 2016.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 498,379 carloads and intermodal units, down 9.2 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending May 14 were 238,353 carloads, down 11.4 percent compared with the same week in 2015, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 260,026 containers and trailers, down 7.2 percent compared to 2015.

Four of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2015. They included miscellaneous carloads, up 11.8 percent to 9,646 carloads; metallic ores and metals, up 5.5 percent to 23,881 carloads; and nonmetallic minerals, up 4.8 percent to 35,702 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2015 included coal, down 30.8 percent to 64,800 carloads; petroleum and petroleum products, down 19 percent to 11,727 carloads; and grain, down 8.5 percent to 18,373 carloads.

For the first 19 weeks of 2016, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 4,559,020 carloads, down 14.2 percent from the same point last year; and 4,888,034 intermodal units, down 1.4 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 19 weeks of 2016 was 9,447,054 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 8 percent compared to last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 29.2 % 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 -11.4 % -7.2 % -8.2 %
Ignoring coal and grain -3.5 %
Year Cumulative to Date -14.2 % -1.4 % -8.0 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

For the week ended May 14, 2016

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 11.4 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 3.8% higher than last week's estimate and 29.2% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2015
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 4.3 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 7 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 233.5 mmst, 32.8% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2015

Coal production from EIA.gov

Steven Hansen



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