Yep – the railroad numbers say it all

In a comment to my first article today, reader J. K. Brown referred us to this article at Captain Capitalism, published this morning.  The Captain observes:

… rail road car traffic is a statistical measure than can’t be fabricated or manipulated by BEA economists.  It’s a concrete measure that (like the railroad tie replacement Alan Greenspan would measure) can be used to measure true economic production and growth in an economy no matter how violently Washington DC economists rape GDP figures.

There’s more at the link, including a very illuminating chart showing how rail car shipments are down this year.  Go read it, then re-read this morning’s article.  They reinforce each other.



  1. I hadn't seen that chart before, but as a semi-regular reader of Trains magazine I'd read enough to know traffic was down. Seeing that chart is truly frightening.

  2. Drilling down, you can see the big drops are: timber, coal, petroleum. Everything else looks reasonable.

    Coal has been pretty much killed by Obama, and we're now shipping it to China. Timber is interesting because usually that's a lagging indicator (housing starts, etc.). But I think it's a mistake to only look at the total numbers.

  3. Wow, that is truly NOT good. With the numbers from here, I don't see any way they can say the economy is 'improving'…

  4. OK, lets see if I can find a less pessimistic view of the rail traffic. Rail traffic according to the chart is down about 10% so far this year over last. The oil from the Canadian sands and new fracking in the Dakotas is mostly carried by rail instead of pipeline. Declines in oil prices and subsequent decline in production in those areas must lead to a decline in rail traffic. If someone has the figures for what % of rail traffic is oil, how much it has declined since last year, subtract the oil decline from the overall decline and we will have a better idea what is going on in rail shipping. The next quarter will also probably show even lower traffic because fewer containers will arrive on the West coast due to shipping bankruptcies(unless folks cooperate, innovate and get those stranded containers to their destinations in a timely manner).

  5. Frac Sand ws a huge money maker for UP, and shipping of that is down about 70%. Likewise, drill stem and casing shipments are way down. When a single industry is main cause, hard to draw too many universal conclusions.

  6. I made this comment once before on your blog, observing that you can see the state of the economy in the billboards on the Interstate. And I've been noticing in my travel that more and more billboards are completely black, except for a 'available – phone #' in case someone wants to display something. That indicates businesses that have given up, and don't see the point in advertising to try and get business.

    It's also notable as back in the last election, I saw a slight bump in the number of new billboards, prior to Obama's reelection. So that could be interpreted as the business opinion of this election's candidates.

    Also, this.
    H/T Instapundit

  7. Look at the Y Axis – it starts at 480. This makes the 10% or so drop look a lot larger than it really is. 10% is significant and we need to be worried but it is not the precipice that the graph makes it out to be.

  8. All shipping is down. Trains have been hit hard with coal, or rather the artificially forced reduction. Over 80,000 jobs in coal alone.

    Imagine how bad it will get with 4 more years of Hillary. Not sure Trump can change what is coming but at least he wont be helping it get worse.

    At least we would get an adversarial media and that is a good thing in a republic. Assuming that all residents have better that a room temperature IQ.

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