Railcar owners across the U.S., Canada and Mexico took 22,667 cars of various types out of storage during March, shrinking the idled fleet to 18.7 percent of the total as freight traffic continues to build.
The Association of American Railroads said 283,649 cars were in storage on April 1 across North America, down from 306,316 on March 1 when 20.2 percent of all railcars were idle.
The car owners are equipment leasing fleets, railroads and some freight shippers. A car is considered stored if it has been parked in a rail yard or on a siding without a revenue cargo in the past 60 days.
It is not clear how many cars are being reactivated for cargoes these days, and how many are considered obsolete and sent to recyclers as metal prices rise. The AAR said the total car fleet across the continent shrank to 1.517 million units as of April 1 from 1.519 million a month earlier, suggesting some culling under way.
However, rail traffic is also the strongest since late 2008 - or before the traffic plunge following the credit collapse - and still rising. And major railcar builders Greenbrier Companies and Trinity Industries have been announcing large new orders in recent weeks.
The AAR also said the April 1 stored fleet was down 103,380 units from the same point in 2010, and down 219,204 from the peak storage level in July 2009.