As freight traffic began to recover from a spring slowdown, owners of parked railcars across North America pulled 2,847 units out of storage in June, nearly reversing the number of units they idled during May.
As of July 1, the Association of American Railroads said 276,236 railcars of various types were parked in storage areas, for 18.2 percent of the total registered fleet available for active service. A month earlier, 18.4 percent of the fleet was idled after car owners parked an additional 2,855 in May.
The AAR also said since the stored fleet peaked in July 2009 at 527,060 units, a net 237,060 have been pulled out of storage. Of those, about 46 percent were either scrapped or otherwise removed from service, the trade group said, while an estimated 54 percent were reactivated to haul cargo.
Owners include equipment leasing companies, freight shippers and railroads. Since the recovery began in mid-2009 they have consistently drawn cars out of storage as traffic levels increased.
This spring saw freight traffic slump, spurring owners to park more equipment in May, but many rail cargoes recovered somewhat in June from their April or May lows, and intermodal volume made year-to-date highs.
The AAR says no more than 3 percent of the total North American fleet would be idle when traffic level is high and fleet utilization at its healthiest, so the recovery in rail freight still has a long way to go for car owners to either reactivate or scrap the 18.2 percent that are parked.
However, some analysts say many of those units now idle may never get back into service, partly because they include obsolete car types such as 48-foot intermodal well cars that have been displaced by domestic 53-footers.
Demand for more of certain car types has begun to fill order books for railcar manufacturers such as Greenbrier, which is adding another production line this month to keep pace.