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posted on 24 June 2016

Rail Week Ending 18 June 2016: Rail Contraction Continues With Rolling Averages Mixed

Week 24 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 short term rolling average's contraction is moderating.

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 -7.5 % accelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average -10.2 % accelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average -6.1 % 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. 18, 2016.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 516,096 carloads and intermodal units, down 6.3 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Jun. 18 were 250,748 carloads, down 8.5 percent compared with the same week in 2015, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 265,348 containers and trailers, down 4.2 percent compared to 2015.

Three of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2015. They were grain, up 24.3 percent to 22,711 carloads; miscellaneous carloads, up 16.8 percent to 10,454 carloads; and motor vehicles and parts, up 0.1 percent to 18,700 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2015 included petroleum and petroleum products, down 24.8 percent to 10,627 carloads; coal, down 20.6 percent to 75,606 carloads; and metallic ores and metals, down 8.9 percent to 22,944 carloads.

For the first 24 weeks of 2016, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 5,773,236 carloads, down 13.3 percent from the same point last year; and 6,179,631 intermodal units, down 2.4 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 24 weeks of 2016 was 11,952,867 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 18.1 % 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 -8.5 % -4.2 % -6.3 %
Ignoring coal and grain -6.9%
Year Cumulative to Date -13.3 % -2.4 % -8.0 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

For the week ended June 18, 2016

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 13.4 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 3.2% higher than last week's estimate and 18.1% 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 8.2 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 302.9 mmst, 28.8% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2015

Coal production from

Steven Hansen

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