North America’s small and regional railroads are enjoying a surge in traffic so far in 2011, with overall volume up 9 percent and some important cargoes growing by double digits.
RMI’s RailConnect Index, which compiles freight levels for 338 short lines in the U.S. and Canada, said reporting carriers handled 1.56 million carloads and intermodal shipments in the 15 weeks through April 16, up from 1.43 million a year earlier. Since there are an estimated 550 short lines in the two countries, the RMI report captures most of them.
The traffic counts include an 11.5 percent gain in the largest short line category -- chemical loadings -- to 262,902 railcar loads. Chemicals include a broad range of products from feedstocks for plastics and pharmaceutical producers to fertilizers and ethanol. When chemical shipments are on the rise, it usually means factories are increasing demand for raw materials to make products and packaging.
By The Numbers:
U.S. Rail Cargo
Short lines’ grain loadings, their second-largest cargo type, rose nearly 9 percent in the first 15 weeks to 219,692 carloads. Construction base materials – stone, clay and aggregates – jumped 15 percent to 160,924. Intermediate metals and product shipments climbed 10 percent to 130,970. And while coal has lagged other groups, short lines loaded 181,615 railcars with it so far this year, up 4 percent.
Although the small railroads focus on bulk commodities, their higher-value intermodal container and trailer volume has surged 21 percent to 116,476 boxes. And motor vehicle and equipment loadings have soared by 49 percent to 22,941 carloads.