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posted on 17 March 2017

Rail Week Ending 11 March 2017: A Stronger Week

Week 10 of 2017 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) marginally 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 again shows -0.8 % (meaning that the predicitive economic elements declined from year-over-year). Although the data was better this week, the intuitive portions of the data remain soft.

The rolling averages were mixed this week.

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 % decelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average +4.1 % decelerating accelerating
52 week rolling average -3.8 % 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 March 11, 2017.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 510,638 carloads and intermodal units, up 4.4 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending March 11 were 253,664 carloads, up 4.3 percent compared with the same week in 2016, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 256,974 containers and trailers, up 4.5 percent compared to 2016.

Five of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2016. They included coal, up 11.9 percent to 79,646 carloads; grain, up 10.9 percent to 24,248 carloads; and nonmetallic minerals, up 10.3 percent to 35,069 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2016 included petroleum and petroleum products, down 15.6 percent to 9,344 carloads; motor vehicles and parts, down 8.5 percent to 18,390 carloads; and forest products, down 5.1 percent to 9,789 carloads.

For the first 10 weeks of 2017, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 2,557,020 carloads, up 4.9 percent from the same point last year; and 2,605,345 intermodal units, up 0.2 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 10 weeks of 2017 was 5,162,365 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 2.5 percent compared to last year.

Coal is over 1/3 of the total railcar count, and this week the EIA says coal production is 11.1 % 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 +4.3 % -4.5 % +4.4 %
Ignoring coal and grain -0.8 %
Year Cumulative to Date +4.9 % +0.2 % +2.5 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

z rail1.png

For the week ended March 11, 2017

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 14.7 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 6.5% lower than last week's estimate and 11.1% higher than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2016
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 5.9 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 8.8 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 158.7 mmst, 14.3% higher than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2016

Coal production from EIA.gov

Steven Hansen



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