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posted on 29 July 2016

Rail Week Ending 23 July 2016: Short Terms Trends Mixed But Remain In Contraction.

Week 29 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 13 week rolling averages' contraction continues to moderate - the the four and 52 week rolling averages degraded.

The contraction began over one year ago, and now rail movements are being compared against weaker 2015 data - and this is the cause some acceleration in the short term rolling averages. 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 -6.1 % unchanged decelerating
13 week rolling average -7.6 % accelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average -6.5 % 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 July 23, 2016.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 528,070 carloads and intermodal units, down 5.3 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending July 23 were 261,748 carloads, down 8.7 percent compared with the same week in 2015, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 266,322 containers and trailers, down 1.7 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 28.3 percent to 10,916 carloads; grain, up 9.2 percent to 24,038 carloads; and chemicals, up 2.5 percent to 30,432 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2015 included petroleum and petroleum products, down 27.5 percent to 10,260 carloads; coal, down 19.4 percent to 83,677 carloads; and motor vehicles and parts, down 13.8 percent to 14,615 carloads.

For the first 29 weeks of 2016, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 7,046,228 carloads, down 12.1 percent from the same point last year; and 7,452,843 intermodal units, down 2.8 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 29 weeks of 2016 was 14,499,071 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 17.8 % 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 -8.7 % -1.7 % -5.3 %
Ignoring coal and grain -5.4 %
Year Cumulative to Date -12.1 % -2.8 % -7.6 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

For the week ended July 23, 2016

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 15 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 1.1% lower than last week's estimate and 17.8% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2015
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 5.5 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 9.5 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 373.8 mmst, 26.3% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2015

Coal production from EIA.gov

Steven Hansen



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