Rail Traffic Declines to Start 2013

The first reading on rail traffic showed a modest decline to -0.1%.  The beginning of the year is usually a volatile period for rail traffic trends so it’s better to take a bit longer view here.  The 12 moving moving average remains modestly positive at 2.23%.  That’s consistent with an economy that is expanding, but still muddling through.  Here’s a bit more detail via the AAR:

“The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported mixed 2012 rail traffic compared with 2011.  U.S. rail intermodal volume totaled 12.3 million containers and trailers in 2012, up 3.2 percent or 374,918 units, over 2011. Carloads totaled 14.7 million in 2012, down 3.1 percent or 476,322 carloads, from 2011.  Intermodal volume in 2012 was the second highest on record, down 0.1 percent or 14,885 containers and trailers, from the record high totals of 2006.

In 2012, 12 of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by AAR saw increases on U.S. railroads compared with 2011.  The biggest gains were petroleum products, up 170,994 carloads or 46.3 percent; motor vehicles and parts, up 114,221 carloads or 16.5 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel, up 71,012 carloads or 7.9 percent; and lumber and wood products, up 18,659 carloads or 13 percent.”

Chart via Orcam Investment Research:


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Cullen Roche

Mr. Roche is the Founder of Orcam Financial Group, LLC. Orcam is a financial services firm offering research, private advisory, institutional consulting and educational services.

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  • http://thebuttonwoodtree.wordpress.com Romeo Fayette

    Devil is in the details. 2011’s holiday year end had Christmas on a Sunday, so transports didn’t lose a business day to Xmas Eve. This year, Xmas & New Years fell on Tuesdays, so their Eves were Mondays, therefore affecting the y/y comps.

    Like Cullen said, grain of salt, but there’s the attribution.

  • http://www.nowandfutures.com bart

    The average of the last 10 weeks of *total* AAR rail traffic is down over well over 2% year on year, 20 weeks down almost 3% year on year.

    Hardly as good as it looks by only looking at the partial picture provided with intermodal.

  • http://www.orcamgroup.com Cullen Roche

    Your measure is misleading. You would have been inclined to believe growth was contracting a long time ago when it obviously wasn’t….

  • witt


    Seriously, that 46% increase in petroleum carloads scares me. It seems unjustified, and I wonder what the numbers look like if that’s backed out…

  • http://www.nowandfutures.com bart

    I reject that a measure of a portion of total rail traffic is a better and more accurate measure than the actual grand total.

    Truck tonnage is also down the last two months, while costs and surcharges are up. So much for intermodal accuracy.

    Then we have non ferrous waste total rail traffic, which has been down for about 8 months YoY. It’s a fairly decent leading indicator for GDP – even Warren B. uses it, after I pointed it out to him.

  • http://www.nowandfutures.com bart

    It’s like totally real man, and thanks to our wonderful government and the greenies it should continue for a while. We don’t need no steenking new pipelines. /sarc

  • perpetual neophyte

    I know this one doesn’t get a lot of comment traffic, but I do appreciate you putting up the data – especially with the moving average.

  • http://www.nowandfutures.com bart
  • Paul W

    I suspect part of the weekly decline was influenced by the fiscal cliff. There seems to have been a minor freeze on shipping, not unlike what happened during the 2008 GFC although much smaller.