Public and private reports this week revealed a mixed bag of economic developments. First the good news:
The Commerce Department reports new home sales jumped 18.6 percent last month, pushing the seasonally adjusted, annual rate to 504,000 …its highest level since May of 2008. Sales in the far-larger existing home market jumped nearly 5 percent in May, marking their largest single-month gain in nearly three years. But don’t break out the champagne just yet…
Despite a solid 0.4 percent gain in personal income last month, consumer Spending – which accounts for nearly 70 percent of all economic activity rose a paltry 0.2 percent in May.
But one place consumers ARE spending more is at the pump, and motorists will likely encounter the highest gasoline prices for Independence Day travel in six years.
The pinch at the pump is somewhat perplexing given the surge in domestic oil production. But the boom also has fueled tragic railroad accidents. This week, federal and local authorities were given a snapshot of the massive amount of crude riding America’s rails.
State and federal officials are finally getting data on exactly how many shipments of crude oil are rolling along on America’s railways.
The Associated Press obtained details of the shipments filed with state emergency officials revealing a growing number of oil trains are traversing densely populated areas.
BNSF Railways reported moving as many as 27 oil trains per week through Chicago’s Cook County and 13 a week through Seattle’s King County.
The shipments have drawn attention since major disasters last year. In Lac-Magantic, Canada, 47 people were killed when a runaway train slammed into town. Other derailments in North Dakota and Alabama also were significant.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx ordered railroads to release information on all train carrying oil from North Dakota’s Bakken to states in an effort to help first responders prepare for an accident. A single train can carry 3 million gallons of fuel, but Fox’s order applies to all shipments of one million gallons or more.
U.S. crude oil shipments by rail topped 100,000 carloads in the first quarter of 2014 according to the Association of American Railroads. That’s the highest volume ever moved by rail.
And because so much crude is moving by rail, the Bakken boom also is causing other transportation issues on the rail lines of grain shipments in the Great Plains.
Regulators are now requiring BNSF and Canadian Pacific railroads to provide weekly updates on their efforts to catch up before harvest of expected summer crops.
The U.S. Surface Transportation Board told the two large rail companies to comply by the end of the week. For their part, rail companies blame a harsh winter and congestion in Chicago for the shortage of railcars.
Those companies also say they’ve had recent progress in reducing the backup of orders to move grain from the Great Plains. BNSF says they’ve reduced their backlog from more than 14,000 cars in April to 9,000 just last week.
The weekly reports to regulators will be required until BNSF and Canadian Pacific have dealt with the bottlenecks.