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posted on 08 July 2016

Rail Week Ending 02 July 2016: Rail Improves Affected By A Mismatch Of Holiday Weeks. June Rail Movements Down 6.3%

Week 26 of 2016 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) expanded according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. The short term rolling average's contraction continues to moderate - but this comparision is affected by the 4th of July being in a different week last year (was in week number 27 in 2015).

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 -3.4 % accelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average -8.2 % accelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average -5.9 % accelerating accelerating

A summary of the data from the AAR:

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported weekly U.S. rail traffic, as well as volumes for June 2016.

Carload traffic in June totaled 1,245,025 carloads, down 7 percent or 93,687 from June 2015. U.S. railroads also originated 1,295,240 containers and trailers in June 2016, down 5.6 percent or 76,920 units from the same month last year. For June 2016, combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations were 2,540,265, down 6.3 percent or 170,607 carloads and intermodal units from June 2015.

In June 2016, six of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month saw carload gains compared with June 2015. These included: grain, up 13.8 percent or 12,982 carloads; miscellaneous carloads, up 17 percent or 4,569 carloads; and waste and nonferrous scrap, up 16.4 percent or 2,907 carloads. Commodities that saw declines in June 2016 from June 2015 included: coal, down 16.4 percent or 73,194 carloads; petroleum and petroleum products, down 22.2 percent or 15,415 carloads; and crushed stone, gravel and sand, down 6.6 percent or 7,727 carloads.

Excluding coal, carloads were down 2.3 percent or 20,493 carloads in June 2016 from June 2015.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first 26 weeks of 2016 was 6,295,216 carloads, down 12.3 percent or 886,579 carloads, while intermodal containers and trailers were 6,713,003 units, down 2.1 percent or 147,056 containers and trailers when compared to the same period in 2015. For the first six months of 2016, total rail traffic volume in the United States was 13,008,219 carloads and intermodal units, down 7.4 percent or 1,033,635 carloads and intermodal units from the same point last year.

"Rail traffic remains relatively weak, with slightly better coal volumes in June offset by continued weakness in intermodal caused in part by an inventory overhang and global economic uncertainty," said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John T. Gray. "Because current economic indicators are presenting a mixed picture, it's not clear if railroads should be pessimistic or cautiously optimistic about the near- to medium term."

Week Ending July 2, 2016

Total U.S. weekly rail traffic for the week ending July 2, 2016 was 529,191 carloads and intermodal units, up 4.4 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Jul. 2 were 264,015 carloads, up 4.9 percent compared with the same week in 2015, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 265,176 containers and trailers, up 4 percent compared to 2015. Please note: The July 4 holiday is not included in Week 26 data for 2016, but is included in Week 26 data of 2015. Therefore, Week 26 data for 2016 is somewhat overstated compared to Week 26 of 2015.

Seven of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2015. They included miscellaneous carloads, up 30.9 percent to 10,824 carloads; motor vehicles and parts, up 29 percent to 18,742 carloads; and grain, up 26.4 percent to 23,248 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2015 were petroleum and petroleum products, down 18.2 percent to 11,186 carloads; coal, down 4.8 percent to 79,354 carloads; and forest products, down 0.3 percent to 11,019 carloads.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 1.3 % 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 +4.9 % +4.0 % +4.4 %
Ignoring coal and grain +7.0%
Year Cumulative to Date -12.3 % -2.1 % -7.4 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

For the week ended July 2, 2016

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 14.1 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 3% higher than last week's estimate and 1.3% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2015
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 5.4 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 8.7 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 330.7 mmst, 27.4% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2015

Coal production from EIA.gov

Steven Hansen



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