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posted on 17 February 2017

Rail Week Ending 11 February 2017: Long Rolling Averages Slow Improvement Continues

Week 6 of 2017 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) improved according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data.

Analyst Opinion of the Rail Data

We review this data set to understand the economy. If coal and grain are removed from the analysis, rail over the last 6 months been declining around 5% - but this week shows -3.4 % (meaning that the predicitive economic elements declined year-over-year).

The rolling averages improved - but that is mostly due to coal and grain.

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 % accelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average +3.4 % decelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average -4.1 % accelerating accelerating

A summary of the data from the AAR:

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported U.S. rail traffic for the week ending February 11, 2017.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 518,431 carloads and intermodal units, up 2.6 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending February 11 were 253,670 carloads, up 3.9 percent compared with the same week in 2016, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 264,761 containers and trailers, up 1.5 percent compared to 2016.

Three of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2016. They were coal, up 18.7 percent to 89,318 carloads; nonmetallic minerals, up 4.2 percent to 30,850 carloads; and metallic ores and metals, up 0.8 percent to 19,348 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2016 included petroleum and petroleum products, down 13.6 percent to 9,763 carloads; grain, down 8.5 percent to 20,477 carloads; and forest products, down 7 percent to 9,614 carloads.

For the first 6 weeks of 2017, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 1,520,237 carloads, up 4.5 percent from the same point last year; and 1,557,309 intermodal units, down 0.4 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 6 weeks of 2017 was 3,077,546 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 2 percent compared to last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week the EIA says coal production is 21.9 % higher than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2016.

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 +3.9 % +1.5 % +2.6 %
Ignoring coal and grain -3.4 %
Year Cumulative to Date +4.5 % -0.4 % -+2.0 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

z rail1.png

For the week ended February 11, 2017

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 16.5 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 3.1% lower than last week's estimate and 21.9% higher than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2016
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 6.5 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 10 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 95.9 mmst, 16.3% higher than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2016

Coal production from EIA.gov

Steven Hansen



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