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posted on 26 August 2016

Rail Week Ending 20 August 2016: Remains In Contraction And Rate Of Improvement Slows

Week 33 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 - but the 4 week and 52 week rolling average contraction worsened.

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 -5.3 % unchanged decelerating
13 week rolling average -6.1 % accelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average -6.8 % 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 August 20, 2016.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 531,484 carloads and intermodal units, down 6.4 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending August 20 were 270,464 carloads, down 6.4 percent compared with the same week in 2015, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 261,020 containers and trailers, down 6.4 percent compared to 2015.

Four of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2015. They included grain, up 36.5 percent to 24,944 carloads; motor vehicles and parts, up 4.9 percent to 18,974 carloads; and miscellaneous carloads, up 4.8 percent to 10,558 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2015 included petroleum and petroleum products, down 24.2 percent to 10,933 carloads; coal, down 16.6 percent to 89,599 carloads; and forest products, down 14.3 percent to 9,869 carloads.

For the first 33 weeks of 2016, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 8,126,642 carloads, down 11.4 percent from the same point last year; and 8,506,957 intermodal units, down 3 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 33 weeks of 2016 was 16,633,599 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 7.3 percent compared to last year.

North American rail volume for the week ending August 20, 2016, on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 356,785 carloads, down 6.3 percent compared with the same week last year, and 335,584 intermodal units, down 5.5 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 692,369 carloads and intermodal units, down 5.9 percent. North American rail volume for the first 33 weeks of 2016 was 21,751,535 carloads and intermodal units, down 7.1 percent compared with 2015.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week is 15.3 % 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 -6.4 % -6.4 % -6.4 %
Ignoring coal and grain -6.8 %
Year Cumulative to Date -11.4 % -3.0 % -7.3 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

Current Rail Chart:

z rail1.png

For the week ended August 20, 2016

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 16 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 0.7% higher than last week's estimate and 15.3% lower than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2015
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 5.8 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 10.1 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 437.6 mmst, 24.9% lower than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2015

Coal production from

Steven Hansen

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