Rail Week Ending January 16, 2016: Contraction Continues

Week 2 of 2016 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) declined according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. Intermodal traffic remained in expansion year-over-year, which accounts for approximately half of movements but the weekly railcar counts remained deeply in contraction.

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).

decelerating Current rolling average accelerating or decelerating compared to the rolling average one year ago
4 week rolling average -14.0 % decelerating accelerating
13 week rolling average -8.6 % decelerating decelerating
52 week rolling average -3.1 % decelerating decelerating

A summary of the data from the AAR:

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported U.S. rail traffic for the week ending Jan. 16, 2016.

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 506,433 carloads and intermodal units, down 8.2 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending Jan. 16 were 242,670 carloads, down 16.6 percent compared with the same week in 2015, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 263,763 containers and trailers, up 1.1 percent compared to 2015.

Three of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2015. They were miscellaneous carloads, up 21.4 percent to 8,437 carloads; motor vehicles and parts, up 2.8 percent to 16,751 carloads; and chemicals, up 2.2 percent to 31,687 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2015 included coal, down 32.6 percent to 75,308 carloads; metallic ores and metals, down 24.2 percent to 18,690 carloads; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 18.5 percent to 12,852 carloads.

For the first 2 weeks of 2016, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 481,891 carloads, down 15.1 percent from the same point last year; and 522,702 intermodal units, up 4.2 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 2 weeks of 2016 was 1,004,593 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 6 percent compared to last year.

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Tony Hayes CFA 4 years ago Contributor's comment

Can you split out oil shipments? The increase in pipeline shipments in the U.S. over the past year must surely have had an effect. Perhaps the mild weather might have reduced the demand for coal of late.