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posted on 22 July 2016

Rail Week Ending 16 July 2016: Still In Contraction But Short Term Trends Continue to Improve

Week 28 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 averages' contraction continues to moderate.

The contraction began over one year ago, and now rail movements are being compared against weaker 2015 data - and this is the cause of the acceleration. Still, rail is weak to very week compared to previous years.

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 -5.9 % accelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average -8.4 % accelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average -6.3 % 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 Jul. 16, 2016.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 520,222 carloads and intermodal units, down 5.6 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Jul. 16 were 262,202 carloads, down 5.4 percent compared with the same week in 2015, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 258,020 containers and trailers, down 5.8 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 25.3 percent to 25,681 carloads; miscellaneous carloads, up 14 percent to 10,647 carloads; and chemicals, up 2.9 percent to 30,917 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2015 included petroleum and petroleum products, down 15.8 percent to 11,221 carloads; coal, down 15.5 percent to 84,272 carloads; and forest products, down 10.3 percent to 9,894 carloads.

For the first 28 weeks of 2016, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 6,784,480 carloads, down 12.2 percent from the same point last year; and 7,186,521 intermodal units, down 2.8 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 28 weeks of 2016 was 13,971,001 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 7.6 percent compared to last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 13.8 % 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 -5.4 % -5.8 % -5.6 %
Ignoring coal and grain -4.8 %
Year Cumulative to Date -12.2 % -2.8 % -7.6 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

Coal production from EIA.gov

Steven Hansen



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