Rail Dashboard

Snapshot of Latest Data


This page collects together a variety of important rail market indicators, with a focus on grain, that will stay up-to-date as new data is available. You can use the filters at the top of each visualization to dive-in to the specific commodity, railroad, location, etc. that you are interested in. Each visualization also provides a link to the underlying data in the visualization, which will, in turn, link to the raw dataset underlying that. Check back weekly for the newest data!

Grain Carloadings

Public carloading data became available through the Surface Transportation Board's rail service data in March 2017. The charts show weekly grain carloadings over time, with the most recent data on the far right. The charts provide a sense of how recent grain carloading numbers compare to longer-term historical trends. The charts can be filtered to show different sets of commodities (e.g., grain, chemicals, coal, etc.), types of traffic (originated or received), and railroads.
For instance, this first chart (below) provides seasonal insight into grain carloads by comparing average weekly grain carloads (per railroad) in each month to the same month in prior years. The next two charts break out carloads over time by railroad (on the left) and carloads by commodity (on the right).

Rail Rates

Tariff Rates
This chart shows a sample of rail tariff rates over time.
Railroads adjust tariff rates infrequently, so they tend to reflect longer-term supply and demand trends.
Railroads are required by law to provide service at their posted tariff rates, but they can contract privately with shippers to negotiate different rates and terms than are publicly posted. Thus, tariffs represent an upper bound on actual rates.
How close tariff rates are to actual rates depends on the railroad. The two major Western Class I railroads, BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad, ship most grain tonnage at tariff rates. In contrast, the two major Eastern Class I railroads, CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway, rely more on contract rates.
Secondary Railcar Auction Market Bids
Railroads have different methods of allocating railcars to meet shipper demand, such as using queues or a lottery system. BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad (and others) offer an optional auction method for shippers willing to pay for guaranteed service. Shippers may choose to bid on guaranteed railcar service directly from the railroad if they believe demand will be higher than normal, such as during harvest. The guaranteed service provides delivery of empty graincars within a specified window of time to their shipping facility. Shippers can then resell and/or buy new claims to guaranteed service on the secondary auction market to reallocate capacity as needed.
Whereas tariff rates are slow to change and tend to reflect longer-term supply and demand trends, secondary auction market rates move quickly and better reflect ongoing supply and demand shifts. If shippers expect the demand for railcars to be high relative to supply, bids for that month will rise. With adequate expected railcar supply, bids for that month will be close to zero. There are fees associated with buying guaranteed service but not using it. In order to avoid railroad fees for unneeded service, shippers may resell their guaranteed service in order to transfer their claim to another shipper at either a higher or lower bid amount, depending on how demand has shifted from the original purchasing date. Because bids are quoted relative to the underlying tariff price of the movement, sometimes bids can be negative when service is resold at a lower price, showing a drop in demand for guaranteed service. This is most likely to happen during times of adequate railcar supply.

Rail Performance Metrics

Train Speeds
Train speeds are an essential indicator of overall rail performance. They appear to be closely related to other rail data. For instance, train speeds appear to be related to total carload volumes, as well as to secondary auction market rates. Higher total traffic is related to slower speeds, likely because of congestion. With congestion and slower speeds, shippers are more willing to pay for guaranteed service in the auction markets. During disruptions, like poor weather, train speeds will typically drop, and are therefore a quick way to gauge current rail performance.
Terminal Dwell Times
The map below displays terminal dwell times for the most recent week of available data. Each dot represents a rail yard and is sized by the total hours reported this week at that yard. The dot's color provides an indicator of how high (red) or low (green) that yard is from it's own historical average for this time of the year. Specifically, each yard is colored by the number of standard deviations that the current dwell time falls from the historical average for the month. Click on a dot to see more details.
While terminal dwell times do not show obvious long term trends, there is seasonality. The clearest seasonal trend is that terminal dwell times are highest during the winter months.
Keep in mind that terminal dwell times do not include commodity-specific information. The value of the terminal dwell time data is the location information.
Origin Dwell Times
Origin dwell times are a great compliment to terminal dwell times. Whereas terminal dwell times include location data, origin dwell times include commodity specific information. In the two charts below, origin dwell times are filtered to grain by default. The chart on the left shows how railroads compared to each other over their recent history, and the chart on the right shows how dwell times compare to the same periods in recent years.