Week 14 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 mixed.
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 2.1 %. We primarily use rolling averages the analyze the data due to weekly volatility – and the 4-week rolling averages improved to 2.2 %.
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 524,905 carloads and intermodal units, up 3.8 percent compared with the same week last year.
Total carloads for the week ending April 7 were 261,898 carloads, up 4.6 percent compared with the same week in 2017, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 263,007 containers and trailers, up 3.1 percent compared to 2017.
Five of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2017. They included coal, up 6,497 carloads, to 81,476; metallic ores and metals, up 2,427 carloads, to 23,401; and chemicals, up 2,138 carloads, to 33,694. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2017 included motor vehicles and parts, down 759 carloads, to 17,103; nonmetallic minerals, down 587 carloads, to 35,567; and miscellaneous carloads, down 331 carloads, to 9,087.
For the first 14 weeks of 2018, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 3,558,097 carloads, up 0.1 percent from the same point last year; and 3,759,388 intermodal units, up 5.3 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 14 weeks of 2018 was 7,317,485 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 2.7 percent compared to last year.