Railroads: April 2011 Is Less Good

What is happening on the USA steel roadways (railroads) is a direct reflection of the state of the USA economy.  April 2011 has presented a positive – but mixed and less good – picture of the traffic on the railroads.  A majority of goods we buy has ridden on rails at some point.

For the year to date through April, The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported total U.S. rail carloadings in  April 2011 were up 3.8% (180,791 carloads) over the same period in 2010.  Railfax, which reports on weekly cycles (not monthly) says the 4 week moving average is up YoY 3.7% using a 30 April 2011 cutoff (analysis here).  The weakness of the latest data is that the March to April growth for 2011 is less than other recent years, except for 2009 when the economy was crashing into the final quarter of The Great Recession.

The YoY trend is down in rail traffic – but the big growth in rail in 2010 was in the second quarter.  Just holding above these 2011 levels is economically positive.  The cornerstone of prior recoveries – construction – is a drag YoY.  This includes items such as gravel and metals.

A reminder of the breakdown of rail shipments:

Coal is also off 2.9% YoY.  Coal is used in power plants, and more and more is being exported.  Econintersect does not have the data to know why coal transport is down.

Overall railcars are down slightly 0.2% YoY, but intermodal (containers and trucks on special rail cars) is up a significant 9% YoY.  Intermodal is in competition with trucking, and a 9% rise means rail is taking traffic from the truck transport.

If anything, the data looks slightly weak showing consumption is likely flat.

Related Articles:

Counting Things: March Container Counts Continue to Show Improving Economy by Steven Hansen

Diesel Fuel Consumption Grew in March by Steven Hansen

Trucking Tonnage Increases in March 2011 by GEI News