Written by Steven Hansen
Week 33 of 2021 shows the same week total rail traffic (from the same week one year ago) slowed according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data.
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 the 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 [including coal and grain] ).
|Percent current rolling average change from the rolling average of one year ago||Trend Direction|
|4 week rolling average||+0.9 %||slowing|
|13 week rolling average||+8.8 %||slowing|
|52 week rolling average||+7.4 %||flat|
A summary for this week from the AAR:
For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 501,273 carloads and intermodal units, down 2.6 percent compared with the same week last year.
Total carloads for the week ending August 21 were 230,754 carloads, up 0.4 percent compared with the same week in 2020, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 270,519 containers and trailers, down 5.1 percent compared to 2020.
Five of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2020. They included metallic ores and metals, up 4,551 carloads, to 23,522; nonmetallic minerals, up 2,802 carloads, to 33,109; and miscellaneous carloads, up 1,042 carloads, to 10,653. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2020 included grain, down 4,483 carloads, to 18,098; motor vehicles and parts, down 2,513 carloads, to 13,974; and farm products excl. grain, and food, down 1,042 carloads, to 14,906.
For the first 33 weeks of 2021, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 7,607,296 carloads, up 8.6 percent from the same point last year; and 9,213,825 intermodal units, up 13.3 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 33 weeks of 2021 was 16,821,121 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 11.1 percent compared to last year.
The middle row in the table below removes coal, grain, and petroleum from the changes in the railcar counts as these commodities are not economically intuitive.
|This week Year-over-Year||+0.4 %||-5.1 %||-2.6 %|
|— Ignoring coal, grain & petroleum||+3.8 %|
|Year Cumulative to Date||+8.6 %||+13.3 %||+11.1 %|