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posted on 10 June 2016

Rail Week Ending 04 June 2016: Rail Contraction Accelerates

Week 22 of 2016 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) contracted according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. The improvement seen last week evaporated, and was likely due to the a holiday falling into different weeks between years.

The deceleration in the rail rolling averages began over one year ago, and now rail movements are being compared against weaker 2015 data.

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 -8.6 % decelerating decelerating
13 week rolling average -11.2 % decelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average -5.9 % 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 Jun. 4, 2016.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 455,346 carloads and intermodal units, down 17.3 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Jun. 4 were 224,258 carloads, down 16.6 percent compared with the same week in 2015, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 231,088 containers and trailers, down 17.9 percent compared to 2015.

Two of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2015. They were grain, up 2.3 percent to 18,628 carloads; and miscellaneous carloads, up 0.5 percent to 9,008 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2015 included petroleum and petroleum products, down 29.1 percent to 9,706 carloads; coal, down 23 percent to 68,008 carloads; and motor vehicles and parts, down 20.9 percent to 15,411 carloads.​

For the first 22 weeks of 2016, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 5,274,449 carloads, down 13.7 percent from the same point last year; and 5,648,851 intermodal units, down 2.1 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 22 weeks of 2016 was 10,923,300 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 8.1 percent compared to last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 20.7 % 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 -16.6 % -17.9 % -17.3 %
Ignoring coal and grain -13.8 %
Year Cumulative to Date -13.7 % -2.1 % -8.1 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

For the week ended June 4, 2016

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 12 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 4% higher than last week's estimate and 20.7% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2015
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 4.6 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 7.4 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 276.6 mmst, 29.8% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2015

Coal production from EIA.gov

Steven Hansen



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