Users of railcars pulled another 5,808 out of storage in July from sidings and rail yards across North America, the strongest drawdown since April when freight traffic was stronger.
The latest estimate from the Association of American Railroads pegged the number of stored railcars from railcar leasing fleets, shippers and railroads at 359,471 units as of Aug. 1, or 23.4 percent of all active and inactive cars in North America. That percentage was 23.7 percent a month earlier.
The trade group counts them as in active service, and therefore out of storage, if railcars have been used for revenue loadings within the preceding 60 days.
Separately industry consultant FTR Associates also estimates the number of railcars that are in service but used at less than their normal capacity, and derives a moderately higher “surplus” figure to count cars underutilized as well as idle.
Industry observers say some of the older railcars coming out of storage are being scrapped when metal prices warrant selling them to recyclers, and that some are undergoing major rebuilds to use them for a different cargo or configuration. But they say most idled cars wait for demand to come back in their particular commodity service.
The AAR said July marks the 13th straight month in which railcar owners have pulled equipment out of idled status, for a total of 143,000 units from storage since the recovery in freight activity began in summer of 2009.
The latest drawdown number, while improved from May and June, is also down from springtime peaks and illustrates how much the rail recovery has slowed from earlier this year. But the fact that storage reductions are picking up again is consistent with a July bounce in seasonally adjusted carload traffic.
The drawdowns so far in 2010 have been:
-8,924 in January;
-21,079 in February;
-31,500 in March;
-18,000 in April;
-747 in May, as freight traffic declined from April highs;
-3,064 in June; and
-5,808 in July.
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.