Rail traffic appears to be getting better but the improvement is simply because year over year comparisons are getting easier.
Please consider some charts from the Railfax Report.
Rail traffic is disaggregated between carload (traffic moving in traditional freight cars such as box cars, tank cars and hoppers) and intermodal traffic (containers and piggyback service). Railshare provides commodity breakdowns for carload traffic; commodity detail for intermodal traffic is unavailable. Railshare graphs show four major breakdowns of rail traffic. Total traffic includes all carload and intermodal traffic; carload traffic is further divided between economically sensitive commodities (cyclical) and those that are less affected by the business cycle (baseline).
click on any chart for crisper image
Total US Rail Traffic
Auto traffic is soaring but weekly numbers are volatile. The quarterly numbers show little improvement. Nonetheless, given that auto sales have likely bottomed, some of that 4-week rolling average improvement is genuine.
However, please note the comparisons to 2008 and 2007 (down 33.6%, and 48.3% respectively) to put the improvement in perspective.
Year Over Year 13-Week Rolling Averages
Note that year over year comparisons are still negative in spite of easier comparisons. The next chart will help put things into perspective.
Loaded 4-Week Rolling Averages
Baseline traffic is still deteriorating while there is improvement in cyclical and intermodal traffic. Add it up and total traffic is stagnating (stabilizing if you prefer), but at a much lower level than 2008 which in turn was much lower than 2007.
There are many more charts in the report, including reports by carrier and reports of North American traffic (the above charts are US).
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
Click Here To Scroll Thru My Recent Post List