Rail Traffic is Slowing With the Economy

Rail traffic is taking a turn for the worse in recent weeks as the economy appears to be slowing even further into Q4.  The latest reading on intermodal traffic came in at -1.1%.   That brings the trailing 12 week average to 1.65%.  The US economy appears to be just barely treading water at this point.   This is also consistent with my latest update for Q4 GDP which is tracking at 1.1% (available via Orcam Investment Research).

Here’s more via the AAR:

“AAR today also reported declines in rail traffic for the week ending Dec. 1, 2012.  Last week U.S. railroads originated 305,708 carloads, down 2 percent compared with the same week last year, while intermodal volume for the week totaled 241,411 trailers and containers, down 1.1 percent compared with the same week last year.

Fourteen of the 20 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2011, with petroleum products, up 65.3 percent; metallic ores, up 27.2 percent, and iron and steel scrap, up 20.2 percent. The groups showing a decrease in weekly traffic included coal, down 12.7 percent; waste and nonferrous scrap, down 5.6 percent, and primary forest products, down 5 percent.

Weekly carload volume on Eastern railroads was down 2.1 percent compared with the same week last year. In the West, weekly carload volume was down 1.9 percent compared with the same week in 2011. “


Got a comment or question about this post? Feel free to use the Ask Cullen section, leave a comment in the forum or send me a message on Twitter.

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:


  1. A statistic as complex as GDP computed sampling thousands of different data, interpolating and adjusting cannot have less than a 1% tolerance. It’s not conspiracy just the limit of statistics.

  2. The economy being non-linear, you’re just as likely to see an increase as a decrease. Chartism does not work in predicting the direction of an economy anymore than it works predicting stock futures.

  3. Cullen our chart gives a much more useful picture of the rail economy. http://railfax.transmatch.com/ Lumber, crushed stone, autos. All doing fine. Coal down as NatGas is outcompeting. Intermodal up YoY even though imports from Asia are leveling off with more insourcing. Also diversion from trucks to intermodal complicates the usefulness of the intermodal number.