Week 15 of 2018 shows same week total rail traffic (from same week one year ago) improved according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR) traffic data. The rolling averages growth rates are generally improving.
Analyst Opinion of the Rail Data
We review this data set to understand the economy. If coal and grain are removed from the analysis for carloads, this week it expanded 5.9 %. We primarily use rolling averages the analyze the data due to weekly volatility – and the 4-week rolling averages declined to 2.0 %.
Intermodal transport growth remains strong year-over-year.
The following graph compares the four-week moving averages for carload economically intuitive sectors (red line) vs. total movements (blue line):
Although rail’s growth rate is improving – it has yet to show that the economy is getting ready for a growth spurt.
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 [including coal and grain] and intermodal combined).
A summary of the data from the AAR:
For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 534,198 carloads and intermodal units, up 4.3 percent compared with the same week last year.
Total carloads for the week ending April 14 were 258,123 carloads, up 1.6 percent compared with the same week in 2017, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 276,075 containers and trailers, up 6.9 percent compared to 2017.
Nine of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2017. They included motor vehicles and parts, up 2,609 carloads, to 18,838; metallic ores and metals, up 2,174 carloads, to 24,785; and nonmetallic minerals, up 1,420 carloads, to 37,834. One commodity group posted a decrease compared with the same week in 2017: coal, down 6,265 carloads, to 75,778.
For the first 15 weeks of 2018, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 3,816,220 carloads, up 0.2 percent from the same point last year; and 4,035,463 intermodal units, up 5.4 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 15 weeks of 2018 was 7,851,683 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 2.8 percent compared to last year.