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posted on 31 March 2017

Rail Week Ending 25 March 2017: Significant Improvement

Week 12 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. The data this year has big ups and downs but is trending up.

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 improved +7.8 % (meaning that the predicitive economic elements improved year-over-year).

The rolling averages were trending up this week except the 13 week averages.

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 +5.2 % accelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average +4.3 % accelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average -3.4 % 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 25, 2017.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 526,471 carloads and intermodal units, up 12 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending March 25 were 260,897 carloads, up 12.4 percent compared with the same week in 2016, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 265,574 containers and trailers, up 11.6 percent compared to 2016.

Eight of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2016. They included grain, up 21.8 percent to 23,312 carloads; coal, up 19.8 percent to 79,422 carloads; and metallic ores and metals, up 15.8 percent to 22,248 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2016 were motor vehicles and parts, down 1.5 percent to 18,390 carloads; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 1.4 percent to 10,591 carloads.

For the first 12 weeks of 2017, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 3,064,382 carloads, up 5.5 percent from the same point last year; and 3,119,735 intermodal units, up 1.1 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 12 weeks of 2017 was 6,184,117 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 3.2 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 % 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 +12.4 % +11.6 % +12.0 %
Ignoring coal and grain +7.9 %
Year Cumulative to Date +5.5 % +1.1 % +3.2 %

[click on graph below to enlarge]

z rail1.png

For the week ended March 25, 2017

  • Estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 14.5 million short tons (mmst)
  • This production estimate is 3% higher than last week's estimate and 21% higher than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2016
  • East of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 5.8 mmst
  • West of the Mississippi River coal production totaled 8.7 mmst
  • U.S. year-to-date coal production totaled 187.3 mmst, 14.8% higher than the comparable year-to-date coal production in 2016

Coal production from

Steven Hansen

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