Week 12 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 rate declined.

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 contracted 1.6 %. We primarily use rolling averages the analyze the data due to weekly volatility – and the rolling averages declined.

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).

  Percent current rolling average is larger than the rolling average of one year ago Current quantities accelerating or decelerating Current rolling average accelerating or decelerating compared to the rolling average one year ago 4 week rolling average +4.3 % decelerating decelerating 13 week rolling average +0.6 % decelerating decelerating 52 week rolling average +2.9 % unchanged decelerating

A summary of the data from the AAR:

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 526,521 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.4 percent compared with the same week last year.

Total carloads for the week ending March 24 were 265,756 carloads, up 2.5 percent compared with the same week in 2017, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 260,765 containers and trailers, up 0.3 percent compared to 2017.

Six of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2017. They included coal, up 7,979 carloads, to 87,348; chemicals, up 1,756 carloads, to 33,788; and nonmetallic minerals, up 667 carloads, to 35,776. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2017 included motor vehicles and parts, down 1,717 carloads, to 16,675; miscellaneous carloads, down 1,504 carloads, to 9,417; and petroleum and petroleum products, down 697 carloads, to 9,889.

For the first 12 weeks of 2018, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 3,030,729 carloads, down 0.5 percent from the same point last year; and 3,227,100 intermodal units, up 5.7 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 12 weeks of 2018 was 6,257,829 carloads and intermodal units, an increase of 2.6 percent compared to last year.

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